Object Lesson: Cypress Trees by Richard Misrach

Richard Misrach (American, b. 1949), Cypress Trees, from the Louisiana Series, 1979, Chromogenic print, Museum purchase, 1981 Morton’s Deaccessioned Auction Funds, 82.49.1

In the late 1970s, Richard Misrach produced a group of photographs in Louisiana that made dramatic use of long exposures and stroboscopic lighting. Here, the intermittent blasts of light on the row of cypress trees obliterate the detail of the trunks and transform a set of rough, textured surfaces into a group of smooth vertical lines, echoing the white stone forms of a classical portico. The reference proved to be portentous: soon after working in Louisiana, he traveled to Greece to photograph classical columns and other structures using the same lighting techniques. Together, these series represent the beginnings of Misrach’s work with full-color photography.

Misrach’s early color images seem to serve as visual evidence of some illicit activity, with the bright light recalling the harsh magnesium flashes of 1930s photojournalism. Much like those earlier photographs, Misrach’s pictures appear to have infiltrated the scene of some crime, providing access to what should be inaccessible and revealing a world beyond darkness, like haunting records of our own nocturnal trespasses.

Russell Lord, Freeman Family Curator of Photographs, Prints, and Drawings

Many photographs from NOMA’s permanent collection are featured in Looking Again: Photography at the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA and Aperture, 2018). PURCHASE NOW

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