About the Photographer
American, b. 1951
In Tooth for an Eye, Deborah Luster researches police murder reports in New Orleans, a city with a homicide rate that is nearly eight times the national average. Luster photographs locations where murders have taken place, such as a meat market, an empty lot in the Lower Ninth Ward, and the City Park. Capturing the full circle of light projected into her large format camera by a wide-angle lens and using slow film and shutter speeds, Luster creates hauntingly charged cityscapes empty of people. The circular images mimic the shape of a gunshot hole or the view through a gun sight. Luster uses the victim’s name and age at the time of the murder as part of the work’s title, providing a fragment of information that transforms the photograph into a sort of memorial, or, in the artist’s own words, “takes a close look at something that no longer exists—an invisible population—in the only way in which one can approach such things, obliquely and through reference.” The resulting images create a map of violence and remembrance in New Orleans.
Deborah Luster began photographing after the murder of her mother in 1988. Her mother and grandmother were avid amateur photographers who constantly documented their family, and Luster picked up photography as a means to reconnect with them and heal. In her first project she created portraits of inmates in three Louisiana state penitentiaries, which resulted in the monograph, One Big Self: Prisoners of Louisiana (2003). Her second monograph, Tooth for an Eye: A Chorography of Violence in Orleans Parish, was published in 2011. Luster has exhibited nationally, including the Ballroom Marfa, TX (2011); the New Orleans Museum of Art, LA (2010); the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA (solo 2004); the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC (2004); and Catherine Edelman Gallery, Chicago, IL (1995, 1996, 2002). Luster is the recipient of numerous awards, including a Sweet Arts Grant, Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans (2007); Anonymous Was a Woman Award (2002); John Gutmann Photography Fellowship, San Francisco Foundation (2002); and the Dorothea Lange–Paul Taylor Prize (with C.D. Wright), Center for Documentary Studies, Duke University (2000). Her work is held in the permanent collections of the Los Angeles County Museum, CA, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA, the Whitney Museum of American Art, NY, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX, among others. She lives in New Orleans, Louisiana, and Galway, Ireland.