Debbie Fleming Caffery: In Light of Everything
Debbie Fleming Caffery is an artist born and working in southwest Louisiana. Her book In Light of Everything (Radius Books, 2024) includes photographs from seven bodies of work taken over six decades of an expansive career. The release of this publication coincides with her first major career retrospective at the New Orleans Museum of Art, October 6th, 2023 – May 5th, 2024.
The photographs move fluidly within the book, with themes of shared human experience. Bearing witness to faith, the dignity of labor, the environment, as well other social and economic structures, Caffery offers a raw and honest glimpse of humanity.
She embraces a connection that is personal and real by embedding herself within communities and photographing people and places she knows well. Through light and shadow, she conceals and reveals dualities of comfort and tension, familiarity and mystery, worldliness, and spirituality.
LA: What stands out for me, especially as seen in your publication “In Light of Everything,” is a perceived closeness that comes through with all your subjects, from the people and places, even the birds, that you photograph. Can you share with me more about these connections within your extensive bodies of works?
DFC: Interesting question. I have been photographing for 52 years, mostly on very long-range projects. When I photograph, I respond instinctively in the moment to what inspires me. Through the years of dedication to specific projects and people, I have become more attuned to emotional moments, wrinkles in a face, the nuances of my environment, using my understanding of light that I have developed to bring all of those things out. All of the visual elements resonate more and more deeply with me emotionally, so do the people I have worked with, including those who are no longer with us.
I can also attribute this idea of closeness to the amount of time I spent in my darkrooms over the years, producing 20 x 24 silver gelatin prints. I dedicated 8 to 10 hours days to the printing process. This printing time allowed me to relive memories in a different and more intimate way. It was dreamy, thinking time. Remembering so many sacred moments.
I believe the answer to your question lies in what has shaped my style of work: a combination of time, patience, the dedication to reaching places that inspire me, being present in those moments.
Debbie Fleming Caffery: In Light of Everything immortalizes in book form the artist’s first major career retrospective presented at the New Orleans Museum of Art. Examining the deep emotional relationship between people and place, Caffery is recognized as a leading photographer visualizing the American South. Her shadowy, blurred images thoughtfully feature elements of luster to reveal elements of the shared human experience—childhood, spirituality, labor—and ultimately bring darkness to light. This publication is her most comprehensive to date, showcasing projects produced within and beyond the American South to Mexico, France, and the American West. Caffery’s sixth title, In Light of Everything is the first to feature all series over the course of her career.
Debbie Fleming Caffery (b.1948) was born in southwest Louisiana, where she lives and works today. Her photographs are housed in numerous collections, including the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris, Center for Creative Photography, The Elton John Collection, George Eastman House, Harvard Art Museums, High Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Smithsonian Institute, and Whitney Museum of American Art. She has consistently shown in group exhibitions since 1973 and solo exhibitions since 1980. Caffery has received several grants and fellowships, such as the Guggenheim Fellowship, Fellowship from the Open Society Institute (George Soros Foundation), Lou Stouman Prize in Photography (Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego) and a commission from the High Museum of Art for their photography initiative Picturing the South. She has published five monographs, including The Spirit & the Flesh (Radius Books, 2009), Alphabet (2015), Polly (Twin Palms Press, 2004), The Shadows (Twin Palms Press, 2002), and Carry me Home (Smithsonian, 1990).
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