Artist and curator Todd Rennie introduces us to the work of New Orleans photographer Bob Perrin.
Bob Perrin has been exploring cemeteries in New Orleans since he was a kid. He remembers riding bikes with friends to Girod Street Cemetery, now buried deeply beneath a portion of the CBD not far from the Superdome. Known for its society tombs of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Girod Street Cemetery was a place where Perrin recalls seeing human bones poking out of crumbling vaults and other mysterious relics of past lives, which made an early impression on him. Perrin is a friendly and sociable guy, who one would never guess has such a deep-rooted fascination with death and the afterlife, until you see his photographs. It makes sense that as a young man he was as drawn to photography as he was to cemeteries, considering its close relationship to the passage of time and to memory. And since his formative years as a photographer, Perrin has brought along cameras on his necropolitan pilgrimages, documenting the materials, practices, and iconography of interment and devotion, across race, class, and generation in Louisiana.
Perrin’s pictures are pensive and psychological in their black-and-white tonalities, drawing from conventions of Surrealism with their hidden faces, disjointed bodies, and dreamlike skies. Like the Southern Gothic of Clarence John Laughlin, who Perrin cites as an early influence, his pictures oscillate between romantic and macabre, with a sense of the ancient as well as the modern, posing questions as much about nature as culture. Populated by surrogate bodies like statuary and dolls, the artist’s shadow is our closest link to another living person. It shows us Perrin at work, with a clear awareness of his mortality, as it falls long and lanky, skeletal, against the blank face of a tomb. More importantly it suggests, in our knowledge of how quickly shadows disappear and reappear, that another pilgrimage might pick up where one leaves off.
Born and raised in New Orleans, Bob Perrin began photographing cemeteries in 1966. He has not exhibited his photographs in nearly 40 years.