ast Africa-based photographer Shannon Jensen threw down a challenge that spawned the Center for Photographic Art’s current two-person show called Tragic Beauty: “How does one represent a journey in an image?”
Half the work comprises her series A Long Walk, photographs of the colorful and ragged shoes worn by Sudanese refugees at the end of their exodus – on foot, for months – from the violence of the Blue Nile State to South Sudan in 2012.
Jerry Takigawa saw those photographs in Santa Fe and asked Janet Howell, former CPA president from 1996-2003 and co-owner of J. Howell Fine Art Gallery, if she would like to curate a show here based on the premise of horror and beauty coexisting. She took up the challenge and raised the stakes, bringing in Seattle-based photographer David Julian.
His part of the show is Taken from the Heart, photographs of damaged family homes, pictures and memorabilia he took in the jumbled landscape of New Orleans just months after Hurricane Katrina.
“There was visual evidence everywhere of the enormously powerful forces of wind and water,” Julian writes by email. “What had once been inside was sucked out, and what had once been outside had been forced indoors.”
Both sets of photographs focus on objects instead of people, which seems like a recipe for missing humanity and emotion. But the objects are irrevocably tied to the people who owned them, infused with their touch, their care, their hopes. Like the wedding photo defaced by Katrina’s toxic flood waters. Or the small shoes of a child refugee, once cute, now dirty and frayed. The damage inflicted on those objects can direct the viewer to think of the damage inflicted on the people who owned them.
But why guide the eyes to beauty in tragedy?
“This show is about contrasts in life and what better medium than photography to achieve this visual impact?” curator Howell says. “What remained for both the Sudanese and people of New Orleans was their determination to survive and not lose hope. There really isn’t anything more beautiful than that.”