Sunday, May 19, 2019

You Are Here: A Brief History of Photography and Place at the New Orleans Museum of Art

Walker Percy, in his novel The Moviegoer, wrote that if a person “sees a movie which shows his very neighborhood, it becomes possible for him to live as... a person who is Somewhere, not Anywhere.” That process of place making began with 19th century with still photography and its ability to provide crisp views of everything from Civil War battlefield skirmishes to the vast, remote expanses of the American West. This “You Are Here” expo explores “photographs of place” and “photographs about place” as a survey of how photography “mediates our experience of the world and other people in it.” And so it does, in a grab bag of visual experiences that segue in almost dizzying leaps among places, peoples and times.

It starts with a series of dimly lit vintage photographs such as Peter Emerson's 1886 view of a rural English laborer stoically towing a boat filled with reeds along a narrow canal, or Francis Frith's 1870 “Three Men, India” view of confounded looking workers in turbans standing amid gargantuan bales of cotton. As photography evolved, even documentary images reflected an increasingly strong sense of design and more psychological tone as we seen in Lola Alvarez-Bravo's 1940 view of men descending a steel staircase, left, where the figures evoke an expressionistic, yet oddly Mexican, take on modern times. A more romantic take on architectural geometry appears in Berenice Abbott's “New York at Night” aerial view of Manhattan skyscrapers glowing like a luminous crystal formation, top. A gritty sense of wonder infuses Gordon Parks' 1996 photo of Muhammad Ali and three men engaged in a Muslim prayer ritual around a lunch table replete with a bottle of A-1 sauce – a fly on the wall perspective also seen in Carrie Mae Weems' striking 1990 “Man and Mirror” suggesting an attempted ad hoc seduction scene from her “Kitchen Table” Series, above. Striking contemporary digital works by Nola artists Tony Campbell, Mat Vis and Jonathan Traviesa round out this vertiginously varied survey of works from the New Orleans Museum of Art's vast and celebrated photography collection. ~Bookhardt / You Are Here: A Brief History of Photography and Place, Through July 28, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100.