by JOHN R. KEMP
Photography is about light, imagination and shared memories. Joyce Linde’s black-and-white photographs resonate with the rhythms of life and light in south Louisiana.
Linde’s dark, brooding, reflected images are like shadowy memories that flash through the imagination when we come upon the faintly familiar, repressed or buried deep within our psyche. Even the titles of her most recent exhibits – “Reflets et échos de la Louisiane” and “Rhythmes et images de la Louisiane” – give viewers a sense that Linde is on an inward journey through the Louisiana landscape that she is willing to share through her photography.
Linde has an eye for ironies and composition in ordinary places. Her lyrical photographs can be stunning representations of straightforward scenes, such as “Boats Like Turtles,” where small boats are stacked, leaning one upon another, or “Truckin’ the Rows” with sugar-cane workers walking behind the cane wagon. One is about composition and light, the other documentation. Others, such as “Looking Back,” are surreal images within images, often immediate surroundings reflected in shop windows or through automobile windshields. In a sense, they are reflections within reflections.
Her eyes scan the landscape where shadows and shapes resonate in her imagination. “My photographic experience has evolved from the pursuit for the ‘beautiful photograph’ into a passionate observation and a documentation of the effects of man upon nature vs. the effects of nature upon man,” said Linde in an artist statement for her 2001 show “Reflets et échos.” “I made the decision to simply photograph what I observed and present these images to others.” In a later interview, she said she was looking for “pristine landscapes but found telephone poles and signs of people.” Her thoughts call to mind what famed French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson said about photography: “My passion has never been for photography in itself, but for the possibility – through forgetting yourself – of recording in a fraction of a second the emotion of a subject, and the beauty of the form.”
Linde is a latecomer to photography. She was born in Madera, Calif., in the mid-1940s. Her father was in the oil business and moved his family around. They lived in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Nebraska and, finally, when she was 13, Lake Arthur in Jefferson Davis Parish. In 1968, she married Mel Linde and settled in nearby Jennings, where she and her husband operated Silverman’s, a clothing store for women and children founded by his grandparents. In 1990, two sons and a daughter later, Linde received a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from what is now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. That same year, the Lindes closed the store in Jennings and moved to Lafayette. She later honed her skills in photography at workshops in Colorado, Maine, Vermont and New Orleans.
Not being a Louisiana native, she says, “has provided me with a different perspective of the state and its culture. I lived in Lake Arthur and Jennings for many years before I really developed a love for the hot, humid climate and its haunting beauty. Everything was different – the climate, the landscape, the food, the music and the language. Perhaps that’s why I love this state so much, because my understanding of the differences was so long in coming.”
Since the early 1990s, Linde has approached south Louisiana culture and landscape with different photographic techniques. In 1995 she teamed up with Lafayette poet Sidney Creaghan for the exhibition “Sweet Threads of Memory” that explored, through poetry and photography, Louisiana’s sugar-cane industry. Sponsored by Shadows-on-the-Teche plantation in New Iberia, Linde photographed sugar-cane fields and workers. “I loved the way it looks, the rows, the way they stacked the cane, the way the burnt cane smelled so ancient,” she says, thumbing through several images.
In 1998 she again teamed up with Creaghan for a show at the Zigler Museum in Jennings. In “Just Below the Surface,” they gave their impressions of Louisiana’s watery landscapes, marshes, bayous, rivers and rice fields. “There’s more there than what you see,” she says. “It’s wild out there in a sense. When I go into the marsh or field, it’s quiet, and then I begin to hear the squirrels and birds. Louisiana just has that depth about it. You have to look past the moss and dig for it.”
In 2000 Linde and Creaghan captured another important south Louisiana art form – its music. In “Rhythmes et images de la Louisiane,” Linde photographed musicians playing the clubs and dance halls. Here we see gauzy black-and-white images suspended momentarily on film. The photographs bear titles such as “Frottoir,” “Le Violin,” “Lumiere,” “Le Cauchemar,” “Accordeon,” “Elixir d’Amour,” “Ti-Fer,” “Beau Soleil” and “Pas Un Menuet.” Missing are the screams of joy, sweat and heart-pounding rhythms of the violin, accordion and washboard. The show hung at the Artists Alliance of Lafayette.
The following year, Linde explored her growing interest in reflected images in a series and show for the Alexandria Museum of Art. Called “Reflets et échos de la Louisiane,” Linde’s work took on a complexity that often resembled the work of surrealist photographers Jerry Uelsmann and Clarence John Laughlin. Louisiana-born Laughlin is best known for his seminal book of photographs, Ghosts Along the Mississippi. But unlike Uelsmann and Laughlin’s work, Linde’s images are not byproducts of darkroom manipulations in which several negatives are exposed on a single sheet of photographic paper. Linde achieves her surreal effects by photographing reflections in windows and automobile windshields. For example, in “Louisiana Story I,” we see through a car window a nearby closed door on a plantation store. Reflected in the door’s small paned-glass panels is the glaringly white image of Belle Helene plantation house. These translucent, fractured images seem almost ghostly, appearing like apparitions in reflections. They give the already surreal Louisiana landscape an even more ethereal feel. They seem to question reality. Are they illusions?
“It’s a different way of looking at and seeing things,” Linde says. “It reminds me of today’s society. It’s so multilayered. Everywhere you go, so much is going on at one time.” In an artist statement for the “Reflets et échos” show, she took that thought a bit deeper: “Whether the surface is a mirror, an old dirty window, or smooth, dark waters, these images possess such a unique perspective that they are far more complex and multilayered than that from the ordinary viewpoint. I want to unravel the components within the scene, and I often question whether I am looking forward, backward or if I have in fact entered into a different time zone … The experience for the viewer, as well as for myself, is to reflect beyond, over and through the surface in an effort to understand the underlying reason for my works’ conception.”
Photographers have employed the reflected-image technique since the late 1960s. Whereas New York photographer Lee Friedlander used it to capture urban images in Manhattan, Linde applies it to rural Louisiana.
In a 2004 review, New Orleans art critic Doug MacCash said Linde’s reflected images bring us “the ghost of childhood vacations past, with odd juxtapositions of car interiors and reflected landscape like the ones we used to see as kids while lying down in the back seat, watching the scenery reflected in the rear windshield.”
Also adding to the richness of her work is Linde’s effective use of toned black-and-white, rather than color photography. “Black-and-white seems to simplify imagery in a way,” she says. “It has more of a presence.” Her dark and contrasting shadows are made even more intense in the darkroom, where Linde uses various toning techniques with bleach, sepia, gold chloride and other chemicals to give the final prints their warm, rich tones.
Linde describes this darkroom technique as blending photography and painting. “The viewer,” she said in an artist statement for her show “Louisiana Crossroads,” “is challenged to closely scrutinize the images in an effort to unravel the process and to ponder the meaning that lies just below the surface.”
In recent months, Linde has taken a break from landscape photography to try her hand at painting and photographing closeups of flowers and female figure studies in a landscape setting. A half-finished painting of a flower rests on an easel in the middle of her studio. She pulls a box of figure studies from under a work table. She seems to approach each subject with intensity, an intensity that has brought her considerable recognition, solo and group shows, awards and sales. “I’m returning to something I did in school,” she says. “I enjoy doing closeups of leaves and plant life and all those shapes found in nature, including the human figure.”
In her short career as a photographer, Linde has found success and considerable acknowledgement. Since 1995, she has received almost a dozen grants and awards. Her work has appeared in individual and group shows. Linde’s photographs can be found in a number of private and corporate collections, including the new Paul and Lulu Hilliard University Art Museum at ULL. In 2004, one of her photographs was selected for the Louisiana Legislative Women’s Caucus Collection Acquisition Award and, in 2003, the Louisiana Percent for Art purchased a photograph to hang in the Claiborne Building in Baton Rouge.
“I try to work at my art every day,” she says, “even if [it’s] just cleaning up the studio.”
Linde is represented by several galleries across the state, including Bassetti Fine Art Photographs in New Orleans, Taylor-Clark in Baton Rouge, Bistineau Gallery in Shreveport and Gallery 912 in Lafayette. •
This article appears in the Spring 2005 issue of Louisiana Life