Skip to Main Content

Deborah Luster | nga

For over a decade, Deborah Luster (American, b. 1951) has created photographic archives to examine the complexity and tragedy of violence. For her series One Big Self: Prisoners of Louisiana, 1998–2002, Luster spent years taking individual portraits of hundreds of Louisiana’s incarcerated men and women. She produced wallet-sized photographs that she gave to the sitters and also made prints on prepared aluminum that were etched on the reverse with details the sitters provided about their lives. These photographs, reminiscent of 19th-century tintypes, are stored in a steel cabinet that houses a gripping archive of a forgotten population. Turning from individuals in the prison system to victims of violence, Tooth for an Eye: A Chorography of Violence in Orleans Parish, 2008–2011, documents murder sites throughout the post–Hurricane Katrina landscape of New Orleans. Focusing on what Luster describes as “the empty, dizzying space at the core of violence,” each photograph of a crime scene is accompanied by a police-style ledger entry, providing details about the homicides committed at the pictured locations. Through a combination of text and image, Luster urges viewers to confront the nature and prevalence of violent crime.