Louviere + Vanessa's

Something Whispered, Something Sung

Ogden Museum of Art by Kathy Rodriguez

By the mid-nineteenth century, photographic practices were ingrained in European and American image making. The passage from singular daguerreotypes to multiple prints from paper negatives, called calotypes, occurred at about this moment, particularly in France. Up sprung the Société Héliographique and its publication La Lumière, which documented the images and processes developing through the experiments of this gaggle of enthusiastic entrepreneurs. Their at times life-threatening trials into exploring the “pencil of nature,” as the British calotype inventor William Henry Fox Talbot called it, equated alchemy. The base materials of light and metal fused to make striking, and highly accessible, images of the rapidly changing world. Film, which took hold in the 1880s and 90s, would be the next medium to record the speed of modern life.

Though photographic processes are now both codified and open to exploration, their magical alchemy is a constant. The magic is present in photographs by Louviere + Vanessa, who are represented by A Gallery for Fine Photography in New Orleans. This collaborative photographer couple, Jeff Louviere and Vanessa Brown, explores a multitude of media including traditional black and white print, destroyed negatives, painting, gold and silver leaf, blood, wax, and film to create tableaux vivants – still images of theatrical subject matter that suggest fragments of myth and dreams.

“Something Whispered, Something Sung,” their current exhibition at the Ogden, samples their ten-year career. According to their biography, the couple met in Savannah then returned to New Orleans, Louviere’s hometown, in 1998. They married in Switzerland in 2000 and continued to live in the city, beginning a series of tableaux vivants meant to recall New Orleans crime scenes. The gothic novel, film-noir character of their images befits this subject matter, and in successive projects they extended their aesthetic to other themes. According to their “theories,” they intended to create “deeply personal tableaux that challenge the viewer to enter the conversation. For [the artists] the more personal the image, the more universal are the potential responses to it.” They open their images to subjective experience through the mystery, darkness, and idiosyncratic humor that structures the content the viewer is asked to interpret.


The exhibit is divided into different bodies of work. Their earliest, titled “Slumberland,” began in 2003 with a Surrealist, automatic approach. Starting with a concept, word, or idea, the artists then “found” communicative images with the use of models and props. Equilibrium is an early example. The photograph depicts a topless man wearing a headpiece resembling a solar system or molecule viewed from above. His dark hair in the center top third of the composition forms the center or nucleus of this structure, made of wire and spheres. The sculpture is loose and janky, like planets fumbling to accustom themselves to gravity, or the moment of the birth of this system.

The Renaissance ideal that man was the center of the universe is definitely present. The downward vantage point suggests a God looking down on this forming creation. But the image did not originate from such a controlled idea. In their walk-through at the Ogden, the couple described creating this image. Brown related that her original vantage point could not produce the image she wanted. But, from above, the composition came together and created the effect she desired. The process and interpretation marry in Surrealist practice – relying on chance to allow the viewer’s unconscious to create meaning, as from dreams. “Slumberland” is then an appropriate title for work of this character.