In the presence of art, we have the opportunity to see inside someone’s heart, mind, and soul and feel what they felt.

1858 Prize Finalist Deborah Luster


Deborah Luster, a finalist for the 1858 Prize for Contemporary Southern Art, from New Orleans, Louisiana, investigates the violence of her home city through photographs. Her mother was a homicide victim, which has inspired Luster to photograph scenes of crimes as well as inmates in Louisiana prisons. Her two bodies of work, “One Big Self: Prisoners of Louisiana” and “Tooth for an Eye: A Chorography of Violence in Orleans Parish,” grapple with death, violence, and the environments in which tragedies take place.

The photographs that compose “One Big Self” are held inside a black steel cabinet, from which viewers must open heavy drawers in order to see and touch the “invisible persons” that inhabit Lousiana’s prisons. On the back of each of the photographs in this collection is information concerning the inmates captured in each photograph, transforming these individuals into human beings rather than mere criminals. For the artist, “‘One Big Self’ is a document to ward off forgetting, an opportunity for those inmates to present themselves as they would be seen, bringing what they own or borrow or use: work tools, objects of their making, messages of their choosing, their bodies, themselves.” The photographs that make up this collection are intensely personal and moving, giving a social presence to those marginalized members of society that have committed acts of violence and are paying their dues.

One Big Self: Prisoners of Louisiana, 1998-2003, Deborah Luster

In a city as vibrant and culturally diverse as New Orleans, violence is often overlooked, despite its huge presence in the community. “Tooth for an Eye” works to illustrate the themes of loss and remembrance that are central to everyday life in a city where “life and death coexist, neither free of the other’s influence.” The images of “Tooth for an Eye” are contained in ledgers, which are laid out on a sweet gum, hickory, and steel table, again requiring the viewer to touch and interact with the work. This hands-on experience gives a more emphatic significance to the Luster’s photographs, requiring viewers to face the violence and tragedy that the artist captures with her camera.

Deborah Luster
Tooth for an Eye, Ledger 06-16, by Deborah Luster
2008 – 2011


Location: 2400 Villere Street (St. Roch)

Date(s): January 10, 1993

January 18, 1993

June 13, 2009 1 a.m.

November 17, 2008

Name(s): Jermaine White (20)

Brother Emerson (17)

Leroy Harris ((19)

Kendrick Thomas (22)

Deborah Luster participated in the Irish Museum of Modern Arts 2014 Residency Programme in Dublin, after she was awarded a 2013 John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship. Her work is currently on show in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, New Orleans Museum of Art, and other private and public collections. Read more about her life and work here.

1858 Prize for Contemporary Southern Art Unveiling Party
Thursday, September 17, 6pm
$25 Society 1858 Members, $35 Non-Members
Location: The Drawing Room at The Vendue, 19 Vendue Range

1858 Prize Dinner
Thursday, September 17, 7:30pm
$100 Society 1858 Members, $135 Non-Members
Location: The Gallery at The Vendue, 26 Vendue Range

For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit

India Dial, Marketing Intern, 2015

Published September 11, 2015

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