Despite the passage of years since the One Big Self official closure, Luster’s career continues to be defined by her ground-breaking, genre-defining project. Her lectures are vital in that she describes the many facets of her projects.
The first annual Baum Award was presented in 2001 to Deborah Luster and hosted by the Friends of Photography Ansel Adams Gallery in San Francisco, with curatorial oversight by Nora Kabat Dolan.
As a child, Luster was the reluctant subject of many family photographs. She lived with her grandmother following her parents’ divorce and it was these childhood photographs that kept her mother connected to her life. Years later, in 1988, Luster’s mother was murdered by a contract killer, an event that affected her profoundly. As the only person to know the identity of her mother’s killer, Luster spent years in fear that she would be killed next. A decade had passed since her mother’s murder when Luster, by then an aspiring photographer, found herself drawn to the prisons of the Louisiana countryside. One fateful afternoon she decided to knock on the door of a prison to ask permission to photograph the inmates, and thus began her project, One Big Self: Prisoners of Louisiana. The project resulted in an archive of 10,000 plus portraits and a published collaboration with acclaimed poet, C.D. Wright. Luster has said that One Big Self is an effort to “ward off forgetting, [and] an opportunity for those inmates to present themselves as they would [like to] be seen.”
In 2001, Luster’s work swept the Baum Award jury with photographs that peered into hidden worlds of family, crime, and incarceration through her portraits of men and women in the Louisiana prison system. From this regcognition in 2001, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art acquired selections of the work from One Big Self. Winning the Baum Award afforded her the time to make prints for her book, One Big Self: Prisoners of Louisiana, which was released in 2003 by Twin Palms Publishing. In 2002 Luster received the John Gutmann Photography Fellowship from the San Francisco Foundation, and the Anonymous Was a Woman award.
The works in Luster’s second monograph, A Tooth for an Eye: A Chorography of Violence in Orleans Parish (2011), are an examination of homicide sites in New Orleans. This series of unassuming photographs are beautiful in their simplicity and composition. The photographs are eloquently framed as if gazing through a round window. Yet a small card that states the details of the homicide – the date, the location, the name of the victim, the manner of their death – accompanies each image, saturating the work with deeper meaning, each their own dark story. At the heart of A Tooth for an Eye, Luster tells the story of another invisible population, those who were slain in the streets of New Orleans and nearly forgotten.
In 2013, Luster was a recipient of the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship. The many museums and galleries where her works are in the permanent collections include San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Smithsonian Art Museum, Washington, D.C.; and the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Columbia College, Chicago. As of 2016, she lives and works between New Orleans, Louisiana, and Ireland, and is represented by Jack Shainman Gallery in New York.
|Credits – 2001 Baum Award|
|Host:||Friends of Photography and Ansel Adams Gallery|
|Curator:||Nora Kabat Dolan|
|Jury:||Nora Kabat Dolan, former Curator of Exhibitions & Public Programs, SITE Santa Fe|
|Proctor Jones, Jr., Photographer|
|Robert Flynn Johnson, Curator in Charge of the Achenback Foundation for Graphic Arts, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco|
|Sandy Phillips, Senior Curator of Photography, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art|