Slavery, The Prison Industrial Complex

Keith Calhoun & Chandra McCormick1981/2013

la Biennale di Venezia - Biennale Arte 2015

la Biennale di Venezia - Biennale Arte 2015

Keith Calhoun & Chandra McCormick
Keith Calhoun born in New Orleans, USA , in 1955.
Chandra McCormick born in New Orleans, USA , in 1957.
They live and work in New Orleans.

Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick collaborate closely as they photograph life among African-Americans in New Orleans and the Louisiana countryside in the southern United States. The region is shaped predominantly by the Mississippi River’s vast deltas, marshes, and swamplands, and by the migration and mixing of Native American cultures with the vestiges of colonial French, Spanish, and British emigrants and the African slave trade. Since the 1980s, Calhoun and McCormick have worked to document the concentration and diversity of contemporary African- American communities in New Orleans and greater Louisiana, paying special attention to the legacy of eighteenth- century slave labor and racial identity. The couple has chronicled the lives of sugar cane workers, dockworkers, and sweet potato harvesters, as well as the rituals of black church services, river baptisms, jazz funerals, and the lively traditions of so-called second-line parades, pleasure clubs, and blues clubs.
In 2005, the flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina nearly destroyed Calhoun and McCormick’s portfolio of photographic work. Both artists, who grew up and established their studio in the mostly African American Lower 9th Ward, reluctantly fled from New Orleans to Texas as the hurricane approached. Upon their return they salvaged the damaged negatives and prints, all of which bore compelling, dreamlike traces of the disaster, including water stains, encrustations of mud, and blotches of mold. No to be discouraged, Calhoun and McCormick went on to produce a bold new body of work that bears witness to the displacement and resilience of Louisiana’s black working-class, and in 2007 they opened L9 Center for the Arts, a community gallery and performing arts center in the Lower 9th Ward.
Calhoun and McCormick are trained in photographic portraiture. They bridge the rigors of studio practice with the spontaneity of photography in urban and rural Louisiana. Their photographic series from the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola records the strength and dignity of incarcerated black men who work in prison conditions that appear to be a legal form of slavery. The intimacy of family visits and the bonds between prisoners are poignant, conveying a feeling of togetherness within the prevailing social order and its attendant system of law. Selected images from Calhoun and McCormick’s Angola state prison series, Slavery: The Prison Industrial Complex, are exhibited at the 56th Biennale di Venezia.

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  • Title: Slavery, The Prison Industrial Complex
  • Creator: Keith Calhoun & Chandra McCormick
  • Date Created: 1981/2013
  • Rights: Courtesy the artists, Photo by Alessandra Chemollo; Courtesy: la Biennale di Venezia
  • Medium: photographs, archival pigment prints