Photographer Nell Campbell currently has an exhibit at the Jane Deering Gallery in downtown Santa Barbara. The exhibit, open through April 30, included an artist talk with poetry readings. We stopped by to check it out.
The exhibit, entitled “Duck Blinds: Louisiana,” comes out of Campbell’s southern roots. Born in Mississippi, Campbell spent her childhood in Louisiana before moving to attend college in Santa Barbara, where she has remained ever since. Duck Blinds are simple forts made along the river or in marshes as a place to hunt ducks. Homemade ones are created out of scrap wood, wire mesh, tree limbs and other natural camouflage. Campbell likes to refer to them as “vernacular architecture.” Her photographs were shot near Lake Charles, Louisiana, between 2001 and 2006 during her visits with friends from home.
Sociable conversation could be heard streaming out the door of the gallery and welcoming passersby’s inside. Campbell has a great following, especially here in Santa Barbara, and it felt like walking into a room of old friends. Upon entering the gallery, one is surprised by the beautiful minimalism. A single white room hung around with large photographs, each in an elegant dark wood frame. The simplicity of the atmosphere brings out the wonderful lighting and colors of each photo, focusing on the many subtle shades of green and the afternoon sunlight on the water. A single unframed photo, quite a bit larger than the rest, is the first to be seen. It is set at just the right angle so it feels like “walking into the water way…just going around that bend,” as curator Jane Deering so aptly put it.
Campbell asked her friends, poets Nancy Lee and Ellen Chavez Kelley, to write a poem or two inspired by her photographs. Each opened with a short impression of their long friendships with Campbell; discussing everything from their favorite personal photos she had given them to Campbell’s eclectic house. Lee reflected how Campbell is able to capture “treasured memories of a time” with each photograph.
Deering discussed how she had no idea what a duck blind was before this, to a chuckle from the group and assurance that “none of us did.” She researched them and only found factory made ones, which stood in stark contrast to Campbell’s “little temples.” Deering enjoys how Campbell can really “capture the essence” of things and she appreciates how easy it has been to connect to Campbell during their time working together.
Southern locals filled out the discussion of Campbell’s work and life in Louisiana, bringing up stories including an appreciated pile of dead ducks on front doorsteps each Christmas and Duck Blind territorial etiquette, which can lead to warning shots fired in the air or burning of blinds which have been built too close by.
Campbell spoke next, opening with love and thanks to the friends without whom the show would not be possible. She went on to tell stories of her youth spent on the river, fishing and water skiing. Campbell also explained the process of taking the photos, which was no small feat since the duck blinds can only be reached by boat. Surprisingly, the duck blinds were shot all in film. Bringing the question of why film up with Campbell, she explained that in 2001, when she began shooting for this collection, she had yet to own a digital camera. However, even now that she has a digital camera, she still prefers film for some shots because she feels it give more depth to a photo. Campbell plans to enlarge the Duck Blinds collection to include some black and white shots she has yet to print, and there was also some discussion of a book, to the appreciative murmurs of the crowd.
Check out Campbell’s beautiful Duck Blind exhibit this month and keep an eye out for her stunning photos of Santa Barbara’s annual Fiesta celebration in SEASONS’ summer edition.