Conversation with Chandra McCormick and Keith Calhoun

Thursday, October 8, 5–6 p.m. CDT

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Photo of the artists by Adrienne Battistella

Since the early 1980s, photographers Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick have chronicled the African American experience in New Orleans and the surrounding Louisiana parishes. Working collaboratively, they preserve the unique traditions and deep-rooted attributes of Louisiana culture. Their images bear witness to both the celebrations and struggles of everyday events, with attention to the profound sense of place felt by Louisianans. Calhoun and McCormick were born in New Orleans. They are both from the Lower 9th Ward, a neighborhood that, prior to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, boasted the largest concentration of African American homeowners in the United States. Their photographic archive was nearly destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, yet their work has proved resilient.

Calhoun and McCormick have documented the soul of New Orleans and a vanishing Louisiana: the demise of manual laborers in the sugar cane fields of Louisiana, the dockworkers and longshoremen on the New Orleans waterfront, the sweet potato harvesters, and the displacement of African Americans after Katrina. They have photographed the traditions of Black church services and religious rituals; community rites and celebrations, such as parades and jazz funerals. As part of their labor series their documentation has covered the cruel conditions of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, a former “slave-breeding” plantation named for the African nation from which the enslaved people who were considered by slaveholders to be “the most profitable.”

Calhoun and McCormick’s images have appeared twice in Aperture, Angola Bound, a collaboration with Aaron Neville and Dr Deborah Willis, Spring 2006; Aperture, Heroes Of The Storm: Five Years After Katrina, Fall 2010; Their work has been shown widely, including (A group) exhibition and the book, Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers, 1840 to the Present. Smithsonian Institution, Anacostia Museum, 2000 Washington, DC.; They have been exhibited at venues including the Brooklyn Museum, New York Feb. 16, 2001 (group exhibition), Committed to The Image, New York; Local Take, African American Portraiture In Louisiana, April 19, 2008, The Louisiana State Museum, Arsenal Building New Orleans; The Peace Museum, (solo exhibition) Soul Of The City, Feb. 2006. Chicago; New Orleans Museum of Art, Born By The River, 1988, New Orleans; The New Orleans Museum of Art, He’s The Prettiest: A Tribute to Big Chief Allison “Tootie” Montana’s 50 Years of Suiting and Masking Consecutively as a Black Indian Chief, 1997, New Orleans; “Essential Lens”, Lives (video), Annenberg Learner, 2014, New Orleans; PBS NewsHour “An Art Exhibition Aims to Help City Heal”, 2008 L9 Center For The Arts, New Orleans; NewYork; Slavery: The Prison Industrial Complex (solo exhibition), The Ogden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans as part of Prospect.3: Notes for Now (2014-2015); The International Art Exhibition, La Biennale, ALL THE WORLD’S FUTURES, May 4, 2015 – November 2015 Venice, Italy; Art Spaces, The Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 5, 2015 New Orleans; “Angola Prison and the Shadow of Slavery”, The New Yorker, August 2015; Artsy Magazine, “New Orleans Photographer Who Captured the City before Katrina”, August, 2016; Frist Museum, Slavery, The Prison Industrial Complex, A traveling exhibition, Feb. 2016, thru 2019, Youth Community Photography workshop, and exhibition; Slavery, The Prison Industrial Complex, Art + Practice, Sept. 2017, Hilliard Museum, 2018, Lafayette, Louisiana; Baltimore Museum of Art, Slavery, The Prison Industrial Complex, Youth Community Photography workshop, and exhibition, 2019; Florida State University, Rising Water: Artists Working in Response to Hurricanes, Exhibition, 2020; MoMa PS1, Exhibition, Marking Time, 3, 2020, New York City.

Calhoun and McCormick have given MFA Portfolio reviews at Duke University. They have also given various artist talks including Aperture Magazine, Artist Presentation and talk, 2006 New York; CBS Sunday with Randall Pinkston, 1998, New Orleans; Columbia University, Rite To Return, Artist Presentation and Panel Discussion, 2007; Artist Talk, 2018, Durham North Carolina; Harvard University, Artist Talk, Harvard Museum Collection 2019, Boston, Mass; University Central Florida, Artist Talk, Presentation, 2019.

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