Review: Salutations

D. Eric Bookhardt on Josephine Sacabo’s photos at the New Orleans Museum of Art

By D. Eric Bookhardt | Gambit Weekly

This review originally appeared here

In the French Quarter, there have always been spots where you could look out across rooftops that hint at old Paris and feel transported to another time and place. Josephine Sacabo has lived most of her life in the Quarter, and her mysterious photographs evoke sensations of something between a seance and time travel. This Salutations series explores a rich vein of associations where her shadowy subjects appear fragmented, as if encountered in a cubist parallel universe she captured in her camera. Such images are fragile, so she printed them with an old wet collodion process that preserves their nocturnal aura in much the way dreams are nurtured by moonlight.

Essentially an attempt to see around corners, cubism depicted a subject from several different angles at once, yielding geometrically patterned images that some say recall the true nature of reality before it is decoded by the brain. Ascending Torso (pictured) is a view into a protean, kaleidoscopic sea mist, a realm where dreams originate and all things are possible, or at least not constrained. This is the realm of the muse, not the cliche muse of popular culture, but rather the empathic feminine principle behind inspiration but not calculation, the realm cited by poet Robert Graves as the origin of all verse. In Leda and the Swan, the outline of a woman shimmers amid dark shadows. Look again and it’s a swan. In the Greek myth, Zeus assumes the form of a swan in order to ravish Leda, but here they are interwoven, transforming duality into unity while playing tricks on our eyes. Sunset takes us back to the rooftops, to the secret garrets of the French Quarter or the slate roofs of Montmartre, to the lost, onion soup and vetiver-scented bohemias of the past. In Sacabo’s world, such places are accessible by a darkly luminous Staircase to an attic filled with memories, or else down to a cellar where lost things are buried; things that haunt us with their absence.