I like timelines, continuums. Something linear that I can point to and say … here, this is where I am, here are the people who came before me, this is the space for those who will come after. I like standing on ancient earthworks and feeling the lives of those who built them beneath my feet. Or sitting in my great-grandmother’s garden and hearing her voice whisper beneath the old catalpa tree.
Maybe that’s why I found the spirit of French photographer Eugene Atget (1857-1927) in New Orleans in the first place. I wasn’t looking for him but instead felt his photographs of Paris materialize through my lens in the Vieux Carre one November afternoon. A Pirate Alley store front slowly became one of his Avenue des Gobelins store fronts. Soon statues, gardens, and workers all became his which slowly became mine. His attempt to photograph what was present and what was fading in Paris became my need to photograph New Orleans in its constant evolution from what it was yesterday to what it is right now.
I’ve spent over a year working on my “Documents for Atget’ series with more than thirty pieces completed. I love the treasure hunt of searching for Atget’s subject matter in our contemporary society as well as the hands on creation of the finished pieces. Each photograph begins as a digital image which is transferred to cotton muslin fabric. The fabric is adhered to ¾ inch wood panels. Multiple layers of ink washes (and sometimes tea and/or coffee) are applied then the image area is finished with coats of wax. The wood is rough and the fabric frayed. The panels are random sizes, usually no larger than 10-12 inches on the longest side.
This project is a blend of history, both photographic and cultural, and modernity with an emphasis on how the two coexist so readily in the diverse and dynamic city of New Orleans. However I have learned that if New Orleans is on a continuum it is a jumbled one. When I sit in a restaurant or lean against a building that was standing when Atget was alive, time becomes blurred. 19th century buildings house daiquiri stands while early 20th century homes serve tacos. An 1850’s church may host the ballet one night and a jazz concert the next all the while being surrounded by the day to day carnival of Faubourg Marigny. Maybe the truth is that we are all blended together on a continuum that can’t be easily defined. If so, there’s no better place for that to happen than New Orleans.