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JOSEPHINE SACABO


A R T I S T S S TAT E M E N T

I believe in Art as the means of transcendence and connection. My images are simply what I’ve made from what I have been given. I hope they have done justice to their sources and that they will, for a moment, stay “the shadows of contentment too short lived.” (Sor Juana Inés De La Cruz)

AC K N OW L E D G E M E N T S I wish to thank the following people, each of whom has immeasurably enriched my life and my work. Bradley Sumrall and Richard McCabe of the Ogden Museum. Joshua Mann Paillet and Edward Hebert of A Gallery For Fine Photography. John and Wilson Scanlan and Jennifer Schlesinger of Verve Gallery, Bill Wittliff of The Wittliff Collection, Catherine Edelman of Catherine Edelman Gallery, John Wood, Dalt Wonk, Iris Cohen, Clara Abreu, John Stevenson, Mimi Stafford, Jon Newlin, Marigny Dupuy, Bette Cole, Carol Flake, Henri Schindler, Alexandra Scott, Marlene Dermer, Elizabeth Shannon and Meg Turner. And a very special thank you to Jacqueline Miró, my invaluable muse, collaborator and friend through it all.

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HEAR ME W I T H YO U R EYES

JOHN STEVENSON

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Born in Laredo, Texas, of a beautiful Mexican/ French mother and a prominent landowner father, Josephine Sacabo was educated at Bard College; and then, marrying, she traveled widely, deeply involved with her art photography. In the first days of her arrival in France, it welcomed her with an acquisition of her works by the Bibliotèque Nationale. She and her husband lived and worked between Provence and London for almost 10 years. Returning to the United States, they were drawn to New Orleans, irresistibly for Sacabo, because it was the most French of cities, because of her hispanic ancestry, and because of its boundless creative energy, ambience, and mystery.

had been in the modernist genre, influenced by certain photo-journalists of subliminal, psychological insight such as Robert Frank, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Josef Koudelka. But suddenly, as if reborn, Sacabo transformed her work into an unprecedented and original new vision. It went from outside in, to inside out. Words cannot quite describe it. Dream-like? Allegorical. Mystic. A master of words, poet and art historian Dr. John Wood, appraises Sacabo very well:

Sacabo’s still lifes, portraits, and figurative works are created in her New Orleans studio, an ancient Faubourg Marigny brick building, with tin ceilings that have shrimp embossed around the border. She illuminates the large darkish space with sunlight, drawn in by mirrors, filtered through muslin. Her landscapes are mostly of New Orleans and Mexico, where she keeps a second home in the colonial town of San Miguel de Allende.

[Her art] is more about emotion than facts, more about the senses and sense experience than it is about intellectual or mundane experience. It travels like electricity through the blood and comes out as sighs and tears; it has a madness about it like the madness of passionate love. ...Again and again she depicts a world of women caught up in complex and extreme emotional situations. Her well-known series of images of Susana San Juan is inspired by Juan Rulfo’s tragic, surrealist novel Pedro Páramo. It chronicles the world of a woman who, in Sacabo’s words, was ‘forced to take refuge in madness

In 1987­—well into mid-career, well established and well regarded—Sacabo produced a portfolio of images, “Lost Paradise,” that abruptly translated her seeing, her techniques and style, into something else entirely. Her earlier works 5


as a means of protecting her inner world.’ Her book Une Femme Habitée, her Nocturne series, portray women at the brink of the precipice.1

An exquisite form of image making, the handmade photogravure is the aristocrat of the rarest, arcane photographic processes. Early masters, Steiglitz, Steichen, Strand, all considered photogravures to be the most sensitive means of aesthetic expression. But it is a method so fine and difficult that it has ever since teetered on the edge of extinction in the modern world.

Though her work has been inspired by Rulfo, Baudelaire, Rilke, Garcia Lorca, Vicente Huidobro, and Sor Juana Inés De La Cruz critic Morri Creech points out that ‘Sacabo avoids the dangers of the artist who takes another work of art for her subject. She understands that the test of any artist is to transform, to filter the source of inspiration through the lens of creative vision. ...[Her] work rises beyond the source of its inspiration, shimmering with its own unique texture and vision.’ ...she is one of today’s leading exponents of what could be called symbolist, mystical, or metaphysical photography.’ 2

So, Sacabo’s first watershed was the transformation of her work visually and spiritually. This second one followed soon after, in her mastery of gravure, with her eye and heart now extended to her hand. Virtually no other important photographer today shows such a constellation of qualities. This Ogden Museum exhibition is generous and important. Measured in one dimension, it provides a strong selection of Sacabo’s fully-developed, mature oeuvre—the symbolist world of dreams and primal emotions, and drawing the outside in. Yet it is in another dimension that this work reveals its true scale.

With roots anchored deeply in New Orleans and its heritage, Sacabo’s visions reach deeply into the interior, human-spiritual universe. Each image is vital, and eloquent. It doesn’t look like anything else. It beckons us in, through the glass. Some of Sacabo’s alchemy is the rare medium that she has refined for her purposes. Leaving a tradition of optical cameras and silver gelatin prints, she has become a virtuoso of the digital camera. But she is less happy with digital prints. Cold, perfect, static, they lack conviction, nuance and life. Her solution is the translation of her images into gravure.

To be sure, each component does stand on its own; a distinct, titled, portfolio of images. Each 1. John Wood, Introduction to Rilke & Sacabo: The Duino Elegies (Massachusetts: 21st: The Journal of Contemporary Photography, 2005). 2. Morri Creech, “Josephine Sacabo’s Lens of Revelation” in 21st: The Journal of Contemporary Photography, V, 27, 28.

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was preceded by a year or more of silence: artist at work. Then, all of a piece, the body of work appears fully formed. There is one characteristic in common: each portfolio crystalizes around a particular poem, or just a wisp of a poem, that somehow became caught up in Sacabo’s imagination. I think that the epiphany of the exhibition, this collection of a life’s work so far, is that these portfolios are not isolated islands. They are components—cantos—of a single extended work. We may be viewing a classic, epic work, in the making. Time will tell. Ten years ago I met Josephine Sacabo personally and represented her works in my art gallery in New York City. These years of close association with her have been a cherished experience for me. I have known and worked intimately with hundreds of artists. None has impressed or personally affected me more. I have witnessed her finest works emerge from astounding energy, and masterly skill. They are presented herewith, in this important, probably historic exhibition.

Con admiración y amor, John Stevenson 7


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LOS T PA R A D I S E

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UNE FEMME HABITE

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EL MUNDO I N A LC A N Z A B L E DE SUSANA SA N J UA N

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A GEOM ME TRY OF ECHOES

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O P H E L I A’ S GA R D E N

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NOCTURNES

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LUX PE RPE TUA

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NOCHE OSCURA

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WAT E R AND DREAMS

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S I LV E R P R I N T S L O S T PA R A D I S E 19 8 7, N E W O R L E A N S S T U D I O

“Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels’ hierarchies?” —Rilke I began my work in the US as a street photographer in the French Quarter in New Orleans where I live and I was amazed at the richness of the life on those streets. It was in fact a sort of sanctuary for all kinds of people and activities. The picturesque elements seemed infinite to me at first—musicians, fortune tellers, tap dancers, strippers, eccentrics of every sort. And I was able to capture a lot of this life with a fresh vision. And then with time, and I mean years, as I looked more closely at my subject matter I began to see the darker side emerge more and more. It was there all along I’m sure but I was so taken by the novelty I didn’t see it. Once I became aware of it I became reluctant to contribute to it by making images of it ...I began to feel as though all I was doing as a photographer was acknowledging the despair I saw around me and then shouting it from the rooftops of magazines and galleries. I felt I couldn’t find beauty anywhere and became really despondent. And it was at this point that my work did a 180 degree turn. I decided to make something beautiful and put it out there—for myself and others, to the best of my ability. If we must suffer I thought, then we can also console. Around that time I was invited to a Mardi Gras party in the French Quarter by a friend of mine and when I walked into the apartment I was stunned by the beauty

of it. She told me she would like to share it with someone and I immediately agreed though I had no idea what I would do there. I began by photographing some friends and then started working with literary texts that I was reading at the time. I have always loved poetry and that correspondence between poetry and photography has been crucial to me ever since. Lost Paradise was the beginning of that change.

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“I am the savage angel that fell one morning into your garden of precepts” —Huidobro This series was inspired by the poem ‘Altazor’ a surrealist epic written by the Chilean poet Vicente Huidobro in the 1920’s. It relates the journey of a cosmic being as his parachute falls through the universe—what he saw and what he felt. I recreated this journey with one woman in one room.

EL MUNDO I N A LC A N Z A B L E D E S USA N A SA N J UA N C A 19 95, L AN DSC APE S I N M E XI CO, F I G U RE S I N N E W ORLEAN S S TU D I O

(The Unreachable World of Susana San Juan). My friend Carol Flake called me one day to tell me she had read an article about a town in ruins across the border from Laredo. I asked my friend and model Jacqueline Miró to go explore it with me and I photographed her in it—a place like no other. Jacqueline happened to call her aunt after our first day of shooting, describing our adventure, and her aunt exclaimed: “You sound like you’re in Pedro Páramo!” This was the

name of a novel by Juan Rulfo, a tragic story set in Mexico. I read the book and realized it was a perfect fit, a synchronistic coincidence with my images. The setting is a town in ruins; the characters are souls wandering in it doing penance, telling their stories. Among them is Susana San Juan, whose entire discourse is one of memory and delusion. It is the story of a woman forced to take refuge in madness as a means of protecting her inner world from the ravages of the forces around her—a cruel and tyrannical patriarchy, a church that offers no redemption, the senseless violence of revolution, death itself. The character of Susana San Juan was particularly compelling to me in that had it not been for an accident of history I might well have shared her fate. The fact that I was born fifty years later just a little north on the United States side of the border made it possible for me to find a way out—photography—which I have used to tell her story, my story and the story of many women living in this country but sharing that legacy. It is my homage to Mexico, Juan Rulfo and Susana San Juans everywhere who will not be possessed.

A GEOME TRY OF ECHOES 2004, NEW ORLEANS STUDIO

“Yo sólo soy memoria y la memoria que de mí se tenga.” (I am only a memory and the memory that others have of me) —Elena Garro This series is dedicated to the memory of my Mother. It is the narrative of a woman’s life set around 1915. They are images of a woman


seen through the eyes of a 6 year old child— impossibly beautiful as only the heart can perceive and remember her. They are the story of the original enchantment returned to me in all its force through Art.

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“Doubtless she had made of this crystal surface and inner mirror to protect herself from the brilliant indiscretion of the afternoons.” —Mallarmé A landscape without a history or a future, existing only for the moment in which it was perceived. It is a landscape that I as a photographer can never revisit because it is no longer there. The light and the wind and the water cannot be held still and I can never be again the woman I was when these images were made. Just as we cannot re-enter a dream, I cannot re-enter this garden or send anyone there. I can only share with the viewer what I saw from the water’s edge.

G R AV U R E S NOCTURNES 19 8 7, N E W O R L E A N S S T U D I O

“Invisible connection is stronger than visible. To arrive at the basic structure of things we must go into their darkness.” —Heraclitus The way I’ve put this series together in my mind is that you have the moon moving across the sky in her different phases and looking in on us, usually through a window. The Nocturnes are what she sees. This all came from a line in Mallarmé that says ‘la lune s’atrisstait’ (the moon became

sad) which personified the moon for me and made me feel sympathy for her. The effect of the moon on us is a common enough conceit so I really liked the idea of our effect on her. Of course I see the moon as a woman—it’s what I know. I guess the most prosaic way to put it is to call it the unconscious. But for me it’s night and dreams and mystery and dualities and shadows -- things within us with which we make a tenuous and uneasy peace, but that sometimes emerge to add color and dimension to what we create. Demons, friends—but in any case our most intimate companions, over whom we have no control. We can’t choose what to dream but we’re certain to feel a dream’s effects.

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American continent. She created the most renowned salon of her time from behind the bars of her cloistered cell. And in that cell she studied science and philosophy, wrote poems, plays and music and championed women’s right to intellectual and spiritual freedom.In the end, after resisting valiantly for over twenty years, she was silenced by the Inquisition. For me it was a very moving personal experience to discover her poetry. Alot of my work seems to be about spiritual survival under duress and once I intuited that aspect of her life and work I identified with that effort and an enormous bond developed. A correspondence.

NOCHE OSCURA (DA R K N I G HT) 2 010, M E XI CO AN D N E W ORLEAN S TR AN S L ATI O N OF S T. J O H N OF TH E C ROSS

These images are glimpses of the light that prevails even in the harshest places once the human spirit has assimilated it—images that have become a part of us beyond their meaning. Beyond dogma.

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“De este cuerpo eres el alma, y eres cuerpo de esta sombra.” (You are the soul of this body and the body of this shade.) —Sor Juana Inés De La Cruz This series was inspired by the life and work of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, the 17th century Mexican nun who was one of the greatest poets and intellectuals of the

Noche Oscura was inspired by the poem of that title, one of the greatest of all love poems in Spanish, by St. John of the Cross, the 16th century Spanish mystic. A woman waits in the night until all is quiet. She goes out into the darkness guided only by the light within, meets her lover and becomes one with him, in a state of mystical union leaving her cares abandoned among the lilies.

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My transcendent experience with nature. Each time I return I find more there. Light and water and the infinite universe contained within. I am there to remember it, see it, and record it.


B I OG R A P H Y Joséphine Sacabo lives and works mostly in New Orleans where she has been strongly influenced by the unique ambience of the city. She is a native of Laredo, Texas, and was educated at Bard College, New York. Previous to coming to New Orleans, she lived and worked extensively in France and England. Her earlier work was in the photo-journalisitic tradition, influenced by Robert Frank, Josef Koudelka, and Henri Cartier-Bresson. She now works in a very subjective, introspective style and divides her time between New Orleans and Mexico She uses poetry as the genesis of her work and lists poets as her most important influences, among them Rilke, Baudelaire, Pedro Salinas, Vicente Huiobro, and Juan Rulfo, Mallarmé, and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz.

S O LO E XH I B I TS

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Deville Gallery, New Orleans, LA Historic New Orleans Collection, LA Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans, LA Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans, LA Mario Villa Gallery, New Orleans, LA Mario Villa Gallery, New Orleans, LA Galerie Junod, Lausanne, Switzerland Portfolio Gallery, London, England Galerie Fanny Guillon-Lafaille, Paris, France Mario Villa Gallery, Chicago, IL Peninsula Fine Arts Center, Richmond, VA Picture House, Leiscester, England Galerie du Château d’Eau, Toulouse, France Galeria El Cadejo, Antigua, Guatemala A Gallery for Fine Photography, New Orleans, LA Louisiana State University Gallery, Baton Rouge, LA American Cultural Center, Brussels, Belgium A Gallery for Fine Photography, New Orleans, LA Sol Del Rio Gallery, Guatemala City, Guatemala Gallery of Contemporary Photography, Santa Monica, CA Photo España 98, Madrid, Spain Foto Septiembre, Puebla, Mexico Galeria Del Teatro San Martin, Buenos Aires, Argentina Centro Del Imagen, Mexico Photo Fusion Gallery, West Palm Beach, FL Steven L Clark Gallery, Austin, TX Center For Photography , Woodstock, New York A Gallery for Fine Photography, New Orleans Steven L Clark Gallery, Austin, TX Catherine Edelman Gallery, Chicago, IL A Gallery for Fine Photography, New Orleans, LA John Stevenson Gallery, New York, NY Verve Fine Arts, Santa Fe, New Mexico John Stevenson Gallery, New York, NY Stephanie Hoppen Gallery, London, England Galeria Pergola, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico Verve Fine Arts, Santa Fé , NM A Gallery for Fine Photography, New Orleans, LA Hallmark Museum of Photography, Turner Falls, MS Galerie BMG, Woodstock, NY


Galeria Pergola, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico Fotoseptiembre, Instituto Cultural de Mexico, San Antonio, TX Galería Pergola, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico Verve Fine Arts, Santa Fé, NM Ogden Museum, New Orleans, LA A Gallery For Fine Photography, New Orleans, LA

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Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans LA - 1st Prize Louisiana Photography Fellowship New Orleans Academy of the Fine Arts - Best of Show Louisiana State University - Best of Show Artist in Residence École Nationale de la Photographie, Arles, France Workshop Director, Rencontre d’ Arles, Arles, France Center For Fine Art Photography, Fort Collins, CO Best of Show

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Une Femme Habitée, Editions Marval, Paris Cante Jondo, 21ST Publishing Pedro Páramo, University of Texas Press Duino Elegies, 21ST Publishing

S E L E C T E D P U B L I C AT I O N S

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AG Darkroom and Photography, London, England American Photographer, New York Art in America B & W Magazine, Santa Barbara, CA Camera Arts Magazine Cliché, Paris/Brussels Il Fotoamatore, Italy London Magazine Louisiana Cultural Vistas Partenaire, Paris, France Photo Metro, San Francisco, CA Popular Photography, New York, NY London Magazine, London, England Louisiana Cultural Vistas

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Partenaire, Paris, France Vis-á-Vis International, Paris, France London Sunday Times Magazine Zoom Magazine Selected Permanent Collections ARCO Corporation Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL Bibliothéque Nationale, Paris, France Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA George Eastman House, Rochester, NY Historic New Orleans Collection, New Orleans, LA Houston Museum of Fine Art, Houston, TX International Museum of Photography, George Eastman House, Rochester, NY Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Lykes Steamship Company, New Orleans, LA Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris, France Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego, CA New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, LA Paris Audio-Visual, Paris, France Smithsonian Institution Libraries, Washington, D.C. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY Wittliff Collection of Southwestern and Mexican Art, San Marcos, TX

CREDITS

Sor Juana Inés De La Cruz D E S I G N Kyle LaMar PR I N T E R Oddi Printing Corp. 842 Carroll Street Brooklyn, New York, 11215 PU B L I S H Luna Press I S B N 978-0-615-55035-0 T I T LE


Oyeme Con Los Ojos  

Images by Josephine Sacabo

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