This Week In Photography Books – Deborah Luster

by Jonathan Blaustein

It’s 4 something in the morning, and I ought to be asleep right now. Instead, I’m staring at a computer screen. (Insert pathetic attempt at humor here.) Why? I’m shaking the last vestiges of a nasty case of jet lag. Such a small, almost elegant term. What it really means is, you feel like your liver and stomach are doing battle for supremacy of your viscera. Your head hurts, it’s hard to complete a sentence, and you see a little man out of the corner of your eye who’s never actually there. (OK, I made that last part up.)

The human body was not designed for Inter-Continental air travel. Don’t bother arguing the point. It used to take someone like me a week to horse it down to Albuquerque, and now I can make it in a couple of hours. Technology has fundamentally changed the way our bodies interact with time, and mine still clings to GMT, for some odd reason.

So here I am, watching words miraculously appear in front of me, one at a time, as they march from my mind to you, our most excellent Global readership. Now that I have your attention, and have admitted that my half-mad ravings ought to be understood within a particular context, we might as well talk about a book, no?

As you’ll soon find out, I was in London last week, eating, drinking, and seeing lots of fantastic things. All to report back to you, in a series of upcoming features. Stay tuned. One thing I can say, straightaway, is that weight of history there is palpable, as is the awareness of all those people who’ve previously trod the ground on which you stand. As photographers, we’ve all visited old cities before, or battlefields, or former nuclear test sites. Places sanctified by blood. We accept that a spot of ground can radiate emotion well after some dark moment occurred in the past.

Deborah Luster researched and visited a series of such places for her new book, “Tooth For An Eye,” published in 2011 by Twin Palms. Except her collection of locales would otherwise have been anonymous, spots where people were murdered across the city of New Orleans. Such a grim concept, mashed together in such a beautiful volume. Like I said last week, I like to be surprised.

This book is over-sized yet slim, the front and back cover mirror images of luminous birds on wires, white on gray. Lovely. As to the grayscale theme, it continues inside. Each double-page spread contains a sheet of text on the left, and a circular, black and white photographic image on the right. The text, hand-written on a sort-of-bureaucratic-looking-form, details the victim, and the manner in which they were killed. The photos depict the location.

Would we care about the photographs without knowing the tragic back-story? I ask the question only to debunk it, because it really doesn’t matter. We do know what happened, and that’s the point. A great book has a story to tell, whether delivered by words, pictures, or both. But yes, the photographs are poignant enough that they’d hold attention regardless. As to the circular shape, well, I might always see the world through that prism if the last thing I saw was the barrel of a gun. (Yes, that’s a bit of a metaphorical stretch, but then again, it’s 4 something in the morning.)

I’m not big on rankings, but this might just be the best book I’ve reviewed yet. The photographs are powerful, the artist is staring down the macabre, and not blinking. As an object, you want to pick it up again and again, seduced by it’s desire to memorialize people who far to often fade away as if they were never here. And those birds on those wires, glowing on the cover, re-appear as the last photo in the book. Brian Christopher Smith, age 22, killed on July 14, 2009. He was found face up, and died of multiple gunshot wounds. That is all.

Bottom Line: Brilliant book, enough said

To purchase “Tooth For An Eye” visit Photo-Eye

Full Disclosure: Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.

Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.

Jonathan Blaustein

There Are 7 Comments On This Article.

  1. scott Rex Ely

    Quote: “over-sized yet slim,”
    Fantastic words for anything visibly digestible.
    Music for tonight: Vikingman/Rodrigo Y Gabriela
    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Put a bird on it!

    Seriously though, I have always wanted to explore the circle as a canvas shape for photography, but why for this series? Do you have any info on how/why they were shot like that?

  3. I saw this show in NY last year and it was really good, but I thought at the time that the circular treatment of the images was kind of gimmicky, it didn’t need it in my opinion, but I think that it was more significant to the artist.

    She also had two ipads mounted inside of oval “antique” frames that had a slide show of portraits and there was some “artifacts” on tables, so overall it was an installation and not just a photo show.