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Review: Photographs by Tina Barney and Gus Bennett Jr. 

New work at New Orleans Museum of Art and Delgado Community College

click to enlarge jill-and-polly-1987--g.jpg

Tina Barney is a photographer with an anthropological passion for documenting the most mysterious of American subcultures: old-time wealthy white people. Barney photographs the genteel, WASP-y residents of Watch Hill, Rhode Island, a Victorian-era resort town that evolved into a homey if tony community based on the old Yankee virtue of bland, understated propriety. Her affable subjects are mostly family and friends drifting through inconsequential daily routines that she records with the loopy candor of a photographic Jane Austen on Xanax. In Jill & Polly in the Bathroom, 1987 (pictured), an older and younger woman appear in matching bathrobes amid a maternal monologue, and everything here is pink except the lawn and doghouse outside the window. It dates from 1987, but the tone is very 1950s. So is Mark, Amy, and Tara, 1983, a scene in which pale, pleasant young people lounge decorously in a sun room, and The Reception, 1999, where formally attired gentry pose stiffly around an antique bust on a coffee table. These are the nice, reliable rich people, her pictures seem to say. But in 21st-century America, they seem as rare and exotic as the lost tribes of Tanzania's remote Serengeti plains.

Gus Bennett is known for his haunting post-Hurricane Katrina figurative works — photomontages that merge a vast spectrum of time, space and emotion into a single image. His new Blak Code Series explores ideas of beauty, juxtaposing elements of black identity with natural forms such as leaves and flowers, resulting in images that often are more abstract and ethereal than personal. They also are very dark, so reflections on their glass surfaces from the gallery's towering arched window create an unexpected hall of mirrors effect, and it can be disconcerting to look at someone else's image and see one's own reflection. But isn't that really what empathy is all about?


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