Deborah Luster

Gardner Photography Fellow 2015

inmate photograph

St. Gabriel, Louisiana

doc # 335957

dob. 8.23.63

pob. Mississippi

sentence. 4 years

3 children

work. housekeeping

Deborah Luster is best known for her photography of prisoners incarcerated in Louisiana.  Ten years after the murder of her mother, Luster was one of a group of photographers funded by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities to document the state’s northeastern parishes; she found and photographed the East Carroll Parish Prison Farm and then spent the next five years photographing at three Louisiana prisons.  Allowed to present themselves as they wished, Luster produced images as wallet-sized photographs that she gave to the inmates (some 25,000 prints) and tin types for gallery display and publication in One Big Self: Prisoners of Louisiana (with poet C.D. Wright, Twin Palms Publishers). The New York Times named One Big Self as one of the top ten photography books of 2003.

Building on her deep experience in and connections with officials and inmates in Louisiana, for her Fellowship year, Deborah Luster continues her investigation of violence, place, and prison, with a study of Angola as place. Angola lies on 18,000 acres of the lower Mississippi valley first inhabited by Mastodons and later the Tunica Tribe; it takes its name from the antebellum Angola plantation that produced cotton and sugar cane and served as a slave-breeding farm.  The site of the prison has been witness to slavery, Civil War, Reconstruction, Black Codes, convict leasing, Jim Crow, the Trustee System, segregation and mass incarceration.  She proposes to spend her Fellowship year documenting Angola’s year-round schedule:  the archaeological sites, the Portage of the Cross, the Mississippi prison dock, antebellum structures, inmates in the fields, the prison structures and signage, Death Row, and other locations.

Deborah Luster (1951– ) lives and works in New Orleans, Louisiana and Galway, Ireland. Her work is held in major collections throughout the United States including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Whitney Museum of American Art, NY; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and the Smithsonian, Washington, DC. She has been the recipient of numerous awards for her photography including the Dorothea Lange–Paul Taylor Prize, Center for Documentary Studies, Duke University (2000); the Baum Award for Emerging American Photographers (2001); the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship (2013); and the Michael P. Smith Memorial Award for Documentary Photography, Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities (2015).  Luster is represented by the Jack Shainman Gallery in New York City.

To view more images of Deborah Luster’s previous work: