Sandra Russell Clark
Photographer Sandra Russell Clark creates black-and-white, infrared, hand-painted images of historic New Orleans cemeteries, southern landscapes and gardens, and European architecture.
Sandra Russell Clark is a photographer who has created a remarkable and elegant body of black-and-white, infrared, hand-painted images of historic New Orleans cemeteries, wispy Louisiana and Mississippi landscapes, gracefully lush gardens of America and Europe, and the architectural glories of Venice, Italy. In the introduction to her landmark book, Elysium: A Gathering of Souls (1997), writer Andrei Codrescu compared Clark’s images and to those of the late surrealist photographer Clarence John Laughlin: “Laughlin . . . tried to make his camera penetrate the very veil of death. Clark does not [have] the same transcendental ambitions, but she photographs the statuary as if it holds an occult key.”
Born in New Orleans on December 31, 1949, Clark grew up in the Rio Vista neighborhood of Old Jefferson, a suburb of New Orleans, in a household she described as of “very strong and independent women—four women under the same roof.” Over the years, she has resided in New Orleans; Long Island, New York; and Santa Fe, New Mexico; and worked in England, France, Spain, and Italy. She currently resides in Bay St. Louis, on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Clark describes herself as a mostly self-taught photographer, though she did take a class in 1978 with David Richmond, a New Orleans photographer with the Courier newspaper and founder of the Photo Exchange Gallery. That same year, she realized photography would be her form of artistic expression. “I was in my first exhibit at the Photo Exchange when I found an art form in which I could express my personal feelings and way of seeing the world and my place in it,” she said. “That same year I began working at the Contemporary Art Center as Director of Photography and staff photographer and continued my career as a fine art photographer, curator, teacher and author.” Photography, she continued, is “a way to express my ideas and emotions about a particular subject. The subject may be a city, landscape, portrait or still life but my approach is always personal.” As to subject matter that interests her most, she summed it up in few words: “Time, memory, transience—especially since Hurricane Katrina.”
Over the years, Clark has pursued several major themes, such as her Louisiana Dreamscapes, a 1980s series of black-and-white infrared photographs, toned and hand-painted landscapes of the Louisiana wetlands. Also during the 1980s, she executed Gardens of Reflection, again using black-and-white infrared photographs, toned and hand painted to capture the beauty of European and American gardens. In the 1990s she continued in Europe with Venice, A Vanishing Light, employing her signature black-and-white infrared photographs of Venice, its cemeteries, canals, wetlands, and gardens. That same decade, she completed her memorable Elysium: A Gathering of Souls, the title of black-and-white infrared photographs and a book of historic cemeteries of New Orleans. Since the 1990s, Clark has worked on a new series, titled In Search of Eden, black-and-white landscapes, seascapes, and still lifes of the Mississippi Gulf Coast region.
In addition to numerous private and corporate collections such as Paine Webber, IBM, R.J. Reynolds, AT&T, Prudential Insurance Company, Atlantic Richfield, Saks Fifth Avenue in New York and Banana Republic, Clark’s photographs are included in the permanent collections of the New Orleans Museum of Art; the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans; the Historic New Orleans Collection; the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston; the Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson; the Memphis Brooks Museum in Tennessee; the Guild Hall Museum in Easthampton, New York; the William Benton Museum of Art in Storrs, Connecticut; and the Pennsylvania Art Conservatory in Philadelphia.
Major honors include grants from the Louisiana Arts Council, the New Orleans Contemporary Arts Center, Houston’s Contemporary Arts Museum, and the Houston, Mississippi Arts Council; publication awards for Elysium: A Gathering of Souls (LSU Press); Louisiana Endowment for the Arts research and publication grant and mini grant in 1996–97; the 1997 Mary Ellen LoPresti Award for Excellence in Art Publishing; and artist residencies at the Santa Fe Art Institute in 2006 and 2008. Clark also showed her work at the 1989 Torino Fotografia Bienanle Internationale in Italy; the 1991 Braga Fotofestival in Portugal; the 1998 “Le Festival Off,” Recontres Internationales de la Photographie d’Arles in France; the 1993 Museu du Imagem e do Som in Brazil; the 2008 Art in Embassy Program in Cairo, Egypt; and the 2001 Mississippi Museum Invitational. With support of the Southern Arts Federation, Clark’s “Elysium” exhibition, based on her book by the same name, toured museums, universities, and art centers throughout the United States for a decade.