Deborah Luster's photographs are a kind of search. More properly, one might even call it an investigation. Don’t get the wrong idea; her manner of probing is nowhere close to scientific in nature or ambition. Despite first appearances these pictures are far too moody, and she’s way too attached to her subject for them to be labeled objective. The mood conveyed leans toward the noirish, though perhaps this invokes a camp sensibility, and there’s none of that here. But what is the Noir if not the quintessential murder mystery? So maybe the reference is apt, for Luster’s photographs are just that, scenes of brutal homicides.
The city of New Orleans provides the ground on which Luster conducts her investigation. Each of the nearly forty black and white photographs depicts a vacant, or nearly vacant, scene of New Orleans’ urban sprawl. Possessing a strange eeriness, they act as the emptied stage of an historical or recent homicide. At first sight Luster's images might seem distanced and objective, even removed. Yet they maintain an air of mystery. The banalities of the depictions are charged with a tension that vibrates just below what is immediately perceptible. The numerous instances of detritus and the general dilapidation appear to only be fragments of a more immense bleakness.
Each photograph is delimited within a circle, echoing what the lens of Luster’s 8 x 10 Deardorff field camera sees. This framing device disturbs the conventional, and therefore neutral, rectangular frame. They might remind one of the view through a spyglass, demarcating a distance within the narrow margins of a circle while simultaneously calling attention to the act of looking, and by extension, searching for something.
New Orleans is the city with the highest homicide rate in North America. It is the immensity of this incomprehensible fact that Luster is attempting to probe. By revealing these surfaces and the concrete materiality of the city, Luster attempts to answer the many question of ‘why’ - Why this city? Why its inhabitants?
~ Yván A. Rosa
Images: Tooth for an Eye, 2022, installation views. Courtesy Jack Shainman Gallery.