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June 30, 2010
Soulful photographer Deborah Luster has made some truly remarkable photographs of men and women in prisons in the US South. In this great interview, which will air today on NPR, she talks about her life and the odd circumstances of her childhood that led to a very personal connection to photography. The program is called The Hidden Life of Girls. If you've never seen her photographs before, her conversation will make you want to see them. Here's a sonic preview.
She's also made one of my favorite photobooks: One Big Self: Prisoners of Louisiana. (Unfortunately out of print).
Here is some text about Luster from the Catherine Edelman Gallery:
Murder is not generally a subject in which most artists find themselves immersed. But twelve years ago, Deborah Luster's mother was murdered, sparking a photographic project which led her to three different state penitentiaries in Louisiana, her home state, as a means of healing and understanding. Photographing inmates against a black backdrop or in the fields, Luster captures the individuals housed behind the barbed wire and prison cells in a project called "One Big Self". Cutting 5 x 4" aluminum and coating it with a liquid silver emulsion, Luster creates images which serve as reliquaries for these men and women whose cockiness, youth, bravado and shyness are imbedded in these pocket-sized contemporary tintypes. Through these images she asks us to "see beyond their crimes ... to suggest that our punitive models are as reflective of who we are as our reward system."
Deborah Luster's earlier body of work, Rosesucker Retablos, is based on Mexican religious votive paintings created as offerings of thanks for spiritual or medical miracles. Luster photographs people she connects with, creating her own "saints," transforming them into luscious magical portraits which are printed on aluminum, layered with paint. Poet C.D. Wright creates the text which accompanies the images. The final pieces radiate with an energy rarely seen in photography today.