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Review: Bayou’s End at A Gallery for Fine Photography 

Ben Depp’s otherworldly photographs of Louisiana wetlands

click to enlarge mother_cabrini_bendepp--g.jpg

Have you ever dreamed you could fly over remote places that most people never see? Environmental photographer Ben Depp does that routinely in a flimsy motor-powered paraglider, soaring for hours above south Louisiana swamps in search of vivid views of our changing coastline. The otherworldly and sometimes devastatingly revealing nature of his Bayou's End images at A Gallery for Fine Photography betray no trace of the grueling endurance that went into their making. They simply appear as colorful visual revelations that fuse art and science into a new, poetically holistic kind of insight. Lafcadio Hearn, the 19th-century journalist and novelist, once described these swampy regions as places where "all things seem to dream," but that beauty clearly has taken a disturbing turn in vast swaths of marshlands so riddled with industrial canals that they resemble delicate green lace ripped to shreds, rapidly dissolving into open sea. Traces of the old beauty remain, but palpable signs of a once-thriving coast are an inescapable presence.

  Depp's focus on environmental photojournalism for publications like Smithsonian Magazine and National Geographic lend a real-world depth to dreamy compositions like his Mother Cabrini (pictured) view of a wrecked fishing trawler amid dead marsh grasses near Venice, Louisiana. Here the view of a capsized vessel is so iconic that it could serve equally well as an illustration for a children's story or an annotated scientific thesis. American Bay is an idyllic vision of the misty, mirrorlike sea lapping the shifting sands of Plaquemines Parish. Retreating Shoreline resembles an ecological crime scene for the way Elmer's Island off Jefferson Parish appears ravaged by predatory human incursions. Depp's boldly graphic compositional flair defines works like Cameron Parish, in which evenly spaced rock jetties transform Gulf waves into a watery baroque filigree lapping a fragile sandy shore, or Jeanerette, where slashes of blue sky reflected from a flooded cane field suggest an apocalyptic vision by a Cajun Anselm Kiefer. Here Depp's photographs eloquently suggest that in Louisiana the boundaries between art and life are as shifting as the boundaries between the land and the sea.

Through June. A Gallery For Fine Photography, 241 Chartres St., (504) 568-1313; www.agallery.com.

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