Once photographs were made with big, bulky cameras that used glass negatives. By the early 20th century, they were rarely used, but a notable exception was John T. Mendes, who documented New Orleans from 1916 through the 1920s. A keen observer who loved dogs (the show's title is taken from a memoir he wrote), Mendes melded professional techniques with a childlike sense of whimsy as we see in Female Impersonator, 1919, a year when Carnival was canceled but the drag queens came out anyway. Aviators, dog circuses, floods, Mardi Gras and children's parades are among the subjects inhabiting this charming view of 1920s New Orleans, a refreshing survey from a unique local who was unknown until these glass-plate negatives were discovered in an Uptown attic.
Today, even as digital photography has made film cameras almost obsolete, there is new interest in even older, more archaic techniques. Revival at the Homespace Gallery features tintypes, daguerreotypes, photogravures, cyanotypes and other 19th century processes employed by talented contemporary photographers. In their hands, the act of image making is transformed from a routine pastime to something far more poetic. Ordinary things like the thistle in a glass in Kevin Kline's tintype, or the close-up of the extruded velvety innards of a magnolia flower in David Halliday's Van Dyke print, are revealed in a fresh new light. One of the more dramatic images is Josephine Sacabo's photogravure Sleep Walker (pictured). Photogravure is a complicated process that melds intaglio printing and photography. Some far less complicated yet no less dramatic images were made by some Louise S. McGehee School students, who used the old cyanotype process in playful new ways. Curated by the Ogden Museum's Richard McCabe, Revival suggests that some traditional photographic processes don't just get old, in the right hands, they sometimes get better. — D. Eric Bookhardt
Revival: Group Show of Historical Processes in Contemporary Photography
Through Jan. 16 (Saturdays and by appointment)
Homespace Gallery, 1117 St. Roch Ave., (917) 584-9867; www.photonola.org/2009/09/09/homespace-gallery
Dogs In My Life: The Photographs of John T. Mendes
Through Feb. 28
Williams Research Center, 410 Chartres St., 523-4662; www.hnoc.org