the ‘Land of Dreams’
Bryce Lankard’s photographs are about a place that was; the Scrap Exchange exhibition is about a new location that is. For 20 years, Lankard has looked at his beloved pre-Katrina New Orleans and celebrates it, warts and all. At the Scrap Exchange a number of artists joined a salute to its 20 years.
In these days of camera phones where the unthinkable is shot and transmitted by amateurs, Lankard’s photographs are not of the moment; they are, however, documents that situate a place in its time. Carefully organized, crafted and true to detail, in this exhibit Lankard has chosen moments in the lives of people who made up the warp and woof of New Orleans. Unasked, is the question, “Do we really want to resurrect the New Orleans of the past with its poverty, its squalor and its slums hidden behind the fantasies of the tourists?” Can we have New Orleans back as the dream world of fun and make-believe, or has the dream disappeared forever when the truth about the Ninth Ward made the headlines?
Lankard’s photographs are in stark black and white; they invite long looks, nostalgic memories, anger, shock and a longing for the fairy tale of Mardi Gras. There is the beautiful young boy dressed in his finery before the parade of the Money Wasters Social Aid and Pleasure Club; the musicians and strutters marching with the Golden Trumpets Social Aid and Pleasure Club and Native Americans on Super Sunday. And there are the masked Flambeaux and a Zulu member getting his make-up applied. In another part of town are young white girls dressed for the Mystic Krewe of St. Anne and the pre-teen princesses sitting in a circle waiting for the Krewe of Caesar to begin while the older male leaders of Caesar pose for pictures backstage before the ball.
There are also other photographs: the naked female entertainers and the women who bare their breasts, the street entertainers, a kid playing a trombone as big as he is, a saxophone player in front of the Cabildo. And there is a homeless sleeper on Bourbon Street, two kids playing with a make-believe pistol and a toddler on a tricycle that has no front wheel.
Lankard has it all, the funeral parades, the above-ground cemetery and the church with its wall of offerings of limbs and crutches to a blessed saint. In his introduction to his catalogue, the artist describes New Orleans as “Graciousness and dissolution. Squalor and elegance. It is a city that knows how to live a life fully — how easy it is to take one.” That city is gone; that land of dreams is history.
Blue Greenberg’s column appears each week in Entertainment and More. She can be reached at email@example.com or by writing her in c/o The Herald-Sun, P.O. Box 2092, Durham, NC 27702.