Photo images in ‘Currents 2013’ transcend their subjects

A CLOSER LOOK

Christmas may be over, but there’s still time to unwrap some of the treats on view in several of the photography exhibitions that opened in conjunction with PhotoNOLA 2013 earlier this month.

At the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, a group show of works by 14 members of the New Orleans Photography Alliance provides an absorbing look at the state of New Orleans photography today.

Like the work in the concurrent “Inventing Reality” show at A Gallery for Fine Photography in the French Quarter, most of the photographs in NOPA’s “Currents 2013” fall squarely in the realm of the subjective and the visionary. (Not coincidentally, a few artists are represented by work in both shows.)

Even relatively straightforward images like the ones in Terri Garland’s triptychs of scenes from rural Louisiana transcend their essentially documentary nature. Each triptych is composed of images that echo one another in form, color and content. The results are often disquieting narratives that add up to more than the sum of their parts.

Photographer Annie Laurie Erickson looks at some iconic Louisiana scenes in a very different way, both literally and figuratively. The photographs of chemical refineries along the Mississippi River in her series “Slow Light” depict afterimages — “the latent imagery that remains on our retinas after we look at the sun or at bright objects in the dark,” as explained in the accompanying wall text.

Photographed with an artificial retina, Erickson’s works fall somewhere between stills from a “Blade Runner” outtake and pure abstraction: brightly colored yet blurred points of light against an indeterminate dark background.

Meanwhile, Anne Berry explores how photography both frames our view of the world and changes our perception of it. The furry primate subjects of her “Behind Glass” series of portraits stare back at the viewer with expressions ranging from self-awareness to mute pleading.

Is the viewer meant to see him- or herself in these portraits, or are we somehow being implicated in these creatures’ confinement and suffering? (A clue might lie in the fact that Berry is planning on publishing the series as a book project, with proceeds slated to benefit an animal relief organization.)

A few blocks away from the Ogden on Julia Street, two photographers at the Arthur Roger Gallery explore different approaches to the genre of photographic still life.

Kate Blacklock’s tableaus feature the lush textures and ripe colors of classic Renaissance still-life painting, with enough incongruous details — a strand of pearls, a pair of toy elephants, a rubber band ball — to mark them as modern-day creations and to remind us that still lifes are always inherently artificial in nature.

David Halliday’s works are vastly different in size, composition and effect. Many of them are photographic reproductions of vintage maps and pieces of fabric, though they’re printed with such a sharp level of detail that you’d be hard-pressed to tell them apart from their original source material.

Some of the oversize prints are almost decorative to a fault; it wouldn’t be difficult to imagine them as part of a promotional display in an upscale men’s clothing boutique. But Halliday’s always exquisite and careful attention to the quality of his prints — particularly evidenced here by a multipart image of a coiled rope — keeps the work from falling into kitsch.

But not all the shows on view this month feature work by photographers who have already made their marks on the New Orleans arts scene. A group show by Xavier University students at the Longue Vue House and Gardens provides a glimpse of what the future of photography in New Orleans might look like.

Among the standouts here are Vashni Balleste’s sensitive (and sensuous) figure studies; Ogechi Nwoko’s beautifully composed portraits taken on trips to Africa; and James L. Hearn’s nocturnal studies of that most ubiquitous of New Orleans landmarks: the corner store.

They’re enough to remind us that PhotoNOLA and New Orleans in general hold plenty of excitement for photography fans throughout the rest of the year and beyond.