Families grow and merge, shift and realign, relocate and re-establish. Ours is an embracing culture in a flexible society. The Richmond Art Center opened the Community Gallery to the question of just what shape and form families were taking in our community today.
Family Portraits offers an opportunity to see the most contemporary interpretations of what is a Family Portrait. A Family Portrait can freeze a moment in time to show assembled smiling family members. Or a family portrait can be a construct of memories and lore. Our families themselves can be mixed groupings crossing generations and gender, geography and even genus. After all, what would our family be without our pets? In Family Portrait we look at how we see ourselves and our closest ties, be they in the kitchen, in school, in the workplace or on the playing field.
We asked artists throughout California to show us what they made of what makes up today’s family. And the jury found the camera presented a sharp view of parents and siblings, and, naturally, the family dog. But we also found clay and collage and even needle and thread render family trees and collected memories.
Here is an exhibition of who we are with whom we share our lives.
Richmond photographer Lewis Watts, has a deep and personal connection to New Orleans. With an eye to detail and an ear to the cadence, Watts has created a body of work reflecting the perseverance and spirit of the people of New Orleans. Visits before and after the destructive force of Hurricane Katrina inform a portfolio of graphic rendering.
Central to these documents of destruction are the signs: flood water levels stained on walls, occupancy markers of abandonment. Add to this the grounded mortuary sign as tall as a building and the foundation of resiliency begins to come into focus. This is a culture in conversation with death. There is mourning. But there is also a profound exchange between life and death, face paint masking fear, a flaunting in costume, a dance in defiance of defeat.
Lewis Watts turns his camera lens on a city; however, it is the analytical viewfinder of scholar and teacher, honed through the years as professor of photography at the University of California, Santa Cruz, which picks up on the generations, distinct and yet strongly connected in this vibrant culture.
Young men gathering, father and son, multi-generation celebration, all these relationships reinforced through ritual. There are figures captured in many of these photographs. Still, the presence of people is just as strongly felt in the empty rooms – the row of hair dryers promising beauty, the bedroom echoing a loving calm, the worn braces holding a history of pain. Watts centers these objects and, the viewer, standing front and center before these documents, enters the photograph to lie down, to be cured, to be transformed.
Images of cast off crutches and illuminated altars bear witness to the power of faith. The importance of ritual is center stage in tribal bonds with ancestral heritage. Whether pilgrimage or prayer or potion, the vestiges of primal fears and hopes infuse these works. A prayer for health, a hunger for love, an offering for the future, all fulfillments just beyond grasp, seeking an additional touch of divine intervention, supernatural power, or voodoo charm.
In New Orleans that determination also drives the music. And the music drives the beat. It is a rhythm to carry youth into adulthood, it is a rhythm to carry funeral processions to the grave, it is a rhythm to carry the survivors to carry on.
The centrality of music and community traditions pulsate in these photographs. Lewis Watts offers us images of loss, hope, and determination.
Image: Lewis Watts, “By the Backstreet Museum, Mardi Gras Day, Treme 2007”