Exhibition Pick: “Self/Reflection”

Dillon Raborn visits an exhibition at the St. Tammany Art Association in Covington of works from the collection of the New Orleans Museum of Art.

Florence Henri, Selbstportrait, 1928-1933. Courtesy Galleria Martini & Ronchetti, Genoa, and the New Orleans Museum of Art.

The St. Tammany Art Association is currently host to a satellite exhibition featuring works from the New Orleans Museum of Art’s permanent collection. “Self/Reflection: Photographs from the New Orleans Museum of Art,” presents photographs spanning the mid-19th century well into the late 20th that employ authorial reflection as a critical component of the works’ formal logic. Now on view in an inviting show in the STAA’s foremost gallery space, the exhibition was first on view at NOMA in 2015, and the current extension provides a great second chance for viewers in St. Tammany Parish to spend time with these historic works.

Though specific in theme, “Self/Reflection,” ultimately provides a light survey of photography as an artistic medium, beginning with Felix Moissenet’s daguerreotype, Portrait of a Man, c. 1852, which presents an anonymous African-American sitter in the artist’s New Orleans studio. This survey is not, however, neutral. “Self/Reflection” conceptualizes photography as being essentially rooted in authorship, and the show explores the nature and role of the photographer throughout historical shifts in process. As pointed out by the wall label, the metallic surface of Moissenet’s daguerreotype doesn’t only reflect the present-day viewer. The extent of its ability to capture detail (a feature noted since the technique’s patent in 1839) can be read in the sitter’s eyes, which reflect the equipment and silhouette of Moissenet himself. Cradled within a display case of the time period, this work strongly serves as both a historical and conceptual anchor for the exhibition, especially considering the chronological gap between this, the show’s earliest work, and the bulk of 20th-century photographs that fill the room.

One notable variation on the exhibition’s theme is Danny Lyon’s 1960s Bikeriders series, in which the artist/rider can often be seen reflected in the side mirror of a parked motorcycle. In the context of “Self/Reflection,” the series, typically framed in terms of its journalistic value, instead serves as a platform for discussing the place of the individual within the collective—Lyon within the Chicago Outlaws Motorcycle Club—and, by extension, the place of the collective within the single work of art.

By framing a history of photography through authorship, NOMA’s “Self/Reflection” not only extends a well-curated show to the St. Tammany region, but also provides a stimulating conceptual framework. The exhibition’s success lies in its willingness and ability to grant weight to a formal element otherwise usually regarded as a mere gimmick, refining how viewers approach reflectivity and its bountiful potential for the discipline of photography.

Editor's Note

“Self/Reflection: Photographs from the New Orleans Museum of Art” is on view through December 3, 2017, at the St. Tammany Art Association (320 N. Columbia Street) in Covington.