Review: “The Past Still Present: Photographs by David Halliday”

David Halliday, Porcini, 2004. Sepia-toned silver gelatin print. Courtesy the artist and Arthur Roger Gallery, New Orleans.

“The Past Still Present: Photographs by David Halliday”
The Ogden Museum of Southern Art
925 Camp Street
January 19-April 8, 2012

In a world consumed with ever-evolving digital technology, some may overlook the craft and complexities of film photography: the trays of chemicals and the enlarger, the artful dance of burning and dodging that a photographer performs in order to create a single gelatin print. Thankfully, there are still photographers like David Halliday, whose proficiency in the darkroom has long been recognized in New Orleans, to remind us of the nuances of shooting in film. His current show at the Ogden, which consists of still lifes and portraiture from the 1990s to the present, features his classic formalism and meticulous craftsmanship.

Some of his most engaging works are those from his Box Series, in which an empty cookie tin becomes a tiny studio for food objects. Halliday carefully styles his photographic subjects inside and, allowing only natural light to seep in through a circular window, captures the scene in his signature sepia. The results feel less like still lifes and more like intimate portraits of human sustenance. In these photographs, the fleshy curves of a fig, the slick bodies of sardines, even the homeliest porcini mushrooms possess a degree of nobility, providing a refreshing contrast to the compulsive relationship we so often have with food, reminding us to slow down and savor with gratitude.

The elegance is not lost in his color photographs. His more recent Portal Prints taken in Nantucket feature an array of nautical objects within a circular frame. The effect is that of looking through a ship’s portal, echoing the feeling of privacy found in the Box Series. Taken out of their aquatic context, the pedestrian abstraction of brightly painted buoys and coiled ropes becomes a thing of beauty. By capturing the inherent majesty in the quotidian, Halliday reaffirms that the best sources of inspiration are often the simplest.

David Halliday, Life Preserver (Blue Print), 2011. Archival pigment print. Courtesy the artist and Arthur Roger Gallery, New Orleans.