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Louviere + Vanessa

Louviere + Vanessa is an artistic partnership founded by Jeff Louviere and Vanessa Brown in New Orleans in 2004.

Louviere + Vanessa

Courtesy of Louviere and Vanessa

Chloroform, Sursum. Louviere + Vanessa (artists)

Louviere + Vanessa is an artistic partnership, founded by Jeff Louviere and Vanessa Brown in New Orleans in 2004 and recognized for its creative and unique approach to producing photographs and films. Louviere, a New Orleans native, is a trained painter, printmaker, and graphic designer; Brown, a New York native, is a trained photographer. Louviere + Vanessa is known for its experimental uses of photography, film, painting, and printmaking techniques in combination with digital technologies, as well as for staging the performance and tableaux vivant events seen in its works. It has been suggested that its influences also include film, theater, literature, performance art, dreams, and fantasy. Art critic D. Eric Bookhardt notes that their vision “is both alchemical and poetic, a view of an imaginary neo-Victorian parallel universe, through a Bywater-based alternate reality.” Louviere + Vanessa’s photographs have been described as surreal images making reference to dreams, memories, and imagined narratives. In this, their visionary works may be regarded as contemporary reflections of the photographic legacy established by the noted New Orleans photographer Clarence John Laughlin.

Louviere has explained that their photographs do not fit into traditional categories. “Coming from a painting background, the idea of the artist’s hand has always been important to me,” he said. “We think of photographs more as paintings.” Their photographs and films are produced through a complex working process. “We come to each other with an idea, or an image…we tell stories, and reinterpret each others thoughts to come up with a concept.” Next, they begin by “setting the stage, painting backdrops or locations, making props and costumes … .” Then, when the concept is staged and a camera selected, “we can move through the piece taking photographs from several angles; we can explore this image we constructed more fully and find new things we had not thought.” After selecting the final images, they enter an experimental stage. “We play and experiment by distressing the images either before scanning or after printing, sometimes both on the same image.” Finally, their prints are produced on archival etching paper.

Jeff Louviere was born in New Orleans in 1971. Vanessa Brown was born in Ithaca, New York, in 1970. Louviere earned a BA in graphic design and printmaking at McNeese State University in Lake Charles in 1993, followed by an MFA in painting at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in 1995. Brown earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in photography at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York in 1992. They met in Savannah while Louviere was studying there, and moved together to New Orleans in 1998. They have indicated that the “impetus for their collaborations began as a series of tableaux created to resemble New Orleans crime scenes.” The artists married each other in Switzerland during the winter of 2000. Each worked independently, consulting with the other, until they formed Louviere +Vanessa in 2004.

Louviere + Vanessa’s works have been included in more than fifty international exhibitions and film festivals. They started with photographic series, some featuring historical and mythological references, including the Slumberland series (2003), the As If series (2004–2007), and the Creature series (2005). In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, they photographed New Orleans using a Holga camera and produced a portfolio titled Over Awe. In their more recent Instinct/Extinct series (2008–2010), they invented a process they called “photo noyee” (“drowned image/photo”) to incorporate images, gold, and other materials by encasing (“drowning”) them in resin, then printing them on handmade Japanese kozo paper, creating works that appear to be suspended in glass. Next came the Folie a Deux series (2009), and then the Counterfeit series (2011), using paper currency acquired from around the world, selecting and enlarging details in the currency — including images of people, animals, architecture, and statues — which were “drowned” in resin, creating pictures that appear to have an aged, timeworn quality.

After working with photography and still images, they began to make films. “A photograph brings something to the viewer,” they wrote. “But a movie takes the viewer in.” Their films, often made in partnership with modern dance companies, include Totem, In the Trees, Dead Weight Night, Streets of Crocodiles, and Dreams of Oblivion, and have been shown at festivals including the Potsdam International Film Festival in Germany and the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. Their works are exhibited at A Gallery of Fine Photography in New Orleans and are included in museum collections such as the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas, and George Eastman House in Rochester, New York.