New Orleans art critic Eric Bookhardt reviews Blind Prom and notes other photo exhibitions.
December used to be an almost sleepy time in local art, a month of group shows featuring “affordable” works suitable for Christmas presents. But that was before the tsunami known as PhotoNOLA suddenly appeared with dozens of photography exhibits and countless other photography related activities in a kind of imagistic frenzy attended by artists and collectors from all over. The first wave hit last Saturday, and there is indeed a lot to see, with additional expos cascading along as this is written. Since PhotoNOLA is the handiwork of the New Orleans Photo Alliance, it seems fair to start with its own gallery, where Sarah Wilson’s BLIND PROM is in full swing. As the name implies, this documentary series focuses on a high school prom at the Texas School for the Blind in Austin, an event for which Wilson has been the official photographer since 2005.
As a visual experience, it is both reassuring and disturbing. Perhaps because of the way photographers such as Diane Arbus have
conditioned us to observe impaired or unusual people from a coolly detached perspective, the first thing we notice in these teens is their difference. Beyond their blindness, some seem impaired in other ways, perhaps from Downs Syndrome, and many exhibit the unselfconscious expressions of those who have never clearly seen their reflection in a mirror. Viewed online, the images may evoke the ghost of Arbus, but in the gallery setting their unvarnished warmth and honesty is apparent as a unique collective presence. All in all, this is a show that makes us come to terms with the humanity of people who do not fit neatly into the blandly trendy self-image of middle class American life. Other first round recommendations would have to include Susan Burnstine’s poetic visions made with archaic Chinese cameras, below, at Canary, Jonathan Traviesa’s portraits at the Ogden Museum, Michele Varisco at Heriard Cimino, but you can really just go to photonola.org and click the EXHIBITIONS link–it’s hard to go wrong. ~Eric Bookhardt
This review originally appeared in the Dec 15 issue of Gambit Weekly and can be found online at: www.insidenola.org/2009/12/december-used-to-be-almost-sleepy-time.html