We think we know people, but sometimes they surprise us. Although we never met, I felt I knew Birney Imes from his striking color photographs of Mississippi juke joints, structures so ramshackle yet richly colorful they exude a pulsating life of their own. His recently rediscovered black-and-white photos are surprising for their subtle take on rural Mississippi life. Another surprise was that Imes, whom I'd imagined as a camera-toting Delta blues hound, was the publisher of the Columbus Commercial Dispatch daily newspaper. His works on view in this expo at A Gallery for Fine Photography amount to a slice of everyday life in rural blues culture. They lack color but have great depth of empathy. In “Young Girl, July, 1989, Isola, Mississippi” (pictured), kids and adults stand in a yard, but look again and the girl with pale eyes appears wise beyond her years, with a knowing gaze as impassive as an ancient oracle. Other daily rituals imbued with a distinctive presence include men rounding up a lost bird dog, youths selling watermelons by the side of a road, a snazzy couple kissing passionately at a cafe wedding reception — a stark contrast to the formally attired youth in “Rufus at his Mother's Funeral,” looking stricken as he holds a solitary flower. In “Terence Harris,” a young boy stands in front of a tiny shack almost obscured by an old Detroit car stranded like a beached whale. He juggles a rock that hangs in space just above his hand. Locked in his gaze, it is unclear where it will land.
These and other thoughtful works make A Gallery for Fine Photography a contemplative Lenten oasis of sorts. In front, a mini-reprise of Josephine Sacabo's recent “Tagged” expo — photogravures of French Quarter graffiti montaged with her images of iconic divas like sensual, secular saints — assumes an altarlike presence amid a display of her and partner Dalt Wonk, a former Gambit contributor, lush, recently produced art books, works of provocative calm that are a perfect antidote to the manic storm of Mardi Gras.
Through April 20. A Gallery for Fine Photography, 241 Chartres St., (504) 568-1313; www.agallery.com.