St. Olaf College’s Flaten Art Museum hosts We No Longer Consider Them Damaged: The Abstract Photographs of Chandra McCormick and Keith Calhoun.
Both born and raised in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, married couple Chandra McCormick and Keith Calhoun have documented the culture of Louisiana together and separately for over forty years, with an unflinching dedication to social justice, particularly in their African American community.
Like their neighbors, their lives were forever changed by Hurricane Katrina. When the storm surged and the levees failed, Chandra and Keith were forced to evacuate to Texas, leaving their home and studio. The studio was full of negatives, prints, rolls of film, the sum of their lives’ work. They moved what they could into plastic bins and elevated these to higher surfaces. When they were allowed to return months later, they found total destruction and waterlogged negatives. In a flash of brilliance, they put the damaged negatives in garbage bags and stored them in a freezer. Five years later, they opened them back up and realized that the freezer had halted the deterioration process in its tracks, abstracting the images with astounding beauty.
Since then, they have experimented with printing these works, and poignantly, they no longer consider them damaged. The prints of the damaged negatives feature imprints of mold, and shadows of other images. In addition, the colors from the Kodachrome film separated and resettled in unusual ways.
McCormick stated “The mold, cracked film cases, and restoration created abstractions of our initial images… The images represent different forms of light that guide and sustain us through trials and tribulations”. By capturing the altered state of the negatives accurately in their prints, McCormick and Calhoun draw attention to a community that is still facing significant hardships.
This exhibition is the first to focus on their abstract works, photographs taken throughout their long careers, altered by disaster in 2005, and printed between 2010 and 2020. Further, it will include a section of photographs they are taking right now, as their vulnerable community of the Lower Ninth Ward faces new crises of the coronavirus pandemic, social unrest, and the start of hurricane season. Thus, this exhibition will explore how these artists have paid radically sustained attention to their community. Speaking to crisis, resilience, and recovery, this show will encourage viewers to rethink conceptions of damage.
Programming with the artists is made possible through generous support from St. Olaf College’s Division of Academic Civic Engagement and The Taylor Center for Equity and Inclusion, the Departments of Art and Art History, Environmental Studies, Religion, Race and Ethnic Studies, and the Leraas Fund and Fine Arts Dean’s Fund.
This exhibition is closed to the general public and open to students, faculty, and staff. See our visitor guidelines.