Photographer Josephine Sacabo has maintained a relationship with the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts’ (NOCCA) writing program. Although words and images usually are considered totally different forms of expression, the truth is more nuanced.
That is demonstrated by NOCCA's Ekphrastic Writing class, taught by Andy Young. If ekphrastic writing sounds exotic, it actually is an old Greek rhetorical exercise based on vivid verbal descriptions of a visual artwork.
Since Sacabo's studio is near NOCCA, a local ekphrastic tradition has evolved and this year resulted in an exhibition at the New Orleans Photo Alliance Gallery. NOCCA students Jillian Chatelain, Katherine Edwards, Maggie Malone, Kristian Palmer, Campbell Smith and Finn Yekple display their texts next to the Sacabo photographs that inspired them.
If this sounds like a feel-good story about an accomplished artist mentoring local high school kids, think again. The writings in this “Shadows in Ink” collaboration reveal highly developed poetic lucidity. Yekple's “Obscene Bird of Night” poems are surreal impressions of Sacabo's Rorschach test-like abstractions, themselves partly inspired by Chilean writer Jose Donoso's novel of the same name.
Malone's fictive journal entries based on Sacabo's ghostly portraits of women, such as “Geometry of Discord, Beyond Thought” (pictured), are verbal vignettes. One involves a mysterious dream about a woman's search for a loved one felt as sensations in her bodily organs. In another work, a man attempts to whistle as he waits for a train, but his breath emerges as a cloud of ice and the train does not stop.
All six of the young writers hark to literary history and Sacabo's images, yet all possess a freshness and singularity of vision that is rare at any age. The result is an illuminating collaboration for all concerned. “I am deeply grateful to them for showing me things in my own work I never knew were there,” Sacabo says.
Through July 21. New Orleans Photo Alliance, 1111 St. Mary St., (504) 513-8030.
The expo opens Friday with a performance of the original work “Black Magic” by local dancers/choreographers Donna Crump and Edward Spots and young performers from Dancing Grounds.
St. Lewis' sometimes campy and always Carnivalesque vision has found a following in Louisiana, where his work appears in numerous private and museum collections.