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Right to Return, River Road, NOLA Now!

Keith Calhoun & Chandra McCormick
Thursday, June 21, 2012 to Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Curated by Shannon Brunette | Organized in partnership with L9 Center for the Arts


Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick of L9 Center for the Arts have spent their lives creating documentary photography in New Orleans, the place they call home. Calhoun and McCormick were both born and raised in the Lower Ninth Ward. The husband and wife duo have been collaborating for more than three decades capturing images from field workers and prison laborers who work on a Louisianan river road to the heroes of the storm that ruptured their city to musicians of young and old. Their archives share a history of a beloved American city unlike any other – their dedication to their subject matter exemplifies the power of photographic storytelling.

Returning to New Orleans after heeding the warnings of extreme weather, they found their archive of work, which had been sealed tightly high above on shelves, to have fallen to the damages of Hurricane Katrina. The flooding may have destroyed equipment and entire homes – yet the salvaged photographic work of Calhoun and McCormick invokes the delicate disturbance of the aftermath of Katrina. Nearly a decade has pasted since the flood waters transformed lives and the work of Calhoun and McCormick. By carefully reprocessing the water-damaged negatives into a new series, Calhoun and McCormick have created work that captures their subjects at the precise moment when the levees broke. As independent curator, Christopher Bedford writes about the collection, ‘Striking and strikingly literal, these images are records of a cultural calamity that produce very little in the way of beauty. These photographs contain precisely that – beauty – foregrounds Calhoun’s and McCormick’s ability to identify again and again those moments of light that puncture the darkness.’

The exhibition at Lambent Foundation allows the viewer to travel from the Louisiana River Road moving into the flood waters to images representing the Right to Return to arriving at the continued strength and on-going work of Calhoun and McCormick in images of NOLA Now! River Road, Right to Return, NOLA Now! is an expression of the history these two artists have captured, bearing silent witness.

In the words of photo editor, Lisa Larson-Walker on Picture Dept by Newsweek & Daily Beast, ‘In spite of the horrors of this event, the colorful and wordless abstraction of this process suggests a way forward, and a hope for the return of lost beauty.’

On December 5th 2012, Lambent joined with Pratt Photography Lectures to host a conversation with Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick. New Orleans-based online platform Pelican Bomb recorded the event, as the photographers spoke with Eva Diaz and Deborah Willis about the L9 Center for the Arts and the Nola Now! exhibit.