NEW ORLEANS MUSEUM OF ART
1 Collins Diboll Circle
October 19–March 1
Millions of lives were captured on film in the twentieth century, and as darkness and pain became larger than life, photographs depicted war, poverty, and illness like never before. Some images have become part of the cultural fabric of America, constructing a shared conception of hardship and toil that balances the unwieldy optimism of advertising and politics. Dorothea Lange’s four-year documentation of Depression-era migrant laborers in California yielded her iconic portrait of Florence Owens Thompson, as well as many other indelible images, including Drought Refugees from Abilene, Texas, 1936. As two young girls peer out the window from the backseat of the car laden with all of their possessions, the desperation in their eyes expands beyond psychology and into the melancholic pain that festers in desperate times.
For “Photography and Depression,” exhibition curator Diego Cortez has created out of the museum’s collections a rock-hard statement that showcases several renowned artists, including William Eggleston, Walker Evans, Lewis Hine, Lange, and Weegee, to name a few. Eschewing predictability, Cortez unites the artists’ differences with a single, simple format. Each photograph is complemented by an excerpt from Arthur Kleinman’s Culture and Depression (1985), which competes for the viewer’s attention. The juxtapositions can be jarring, yet they also speak to the Crescent City’s current reconstructions. As a fresh look at a well-known group of images, “Photography and Depression” is a subtle step toward sincerity.