In this series, Lagniappe presents a different work each week from the collection of the New Orleans Museum of Art, with commentary from a curator.
Many of us can name a work of art, music or literature that provokes an emotional or even a physical reaction. This photograph by Guy Mendes has that quality and can inspire an incredible sense of lightness and peace.
The soft bend in the wrinkled sail allows us to see an otherwise invisible breeze that was too soft to raise whitecaps on the lake’s surface, but might have blown strong enough to cool one’s face on a warm afternoon at the Lakefront.
Photography has often been described as freezing discrete moments of time, slicing the present away from the past and the future and fixing it onto a surface so that we can look at it with new attention. Considered that way, a photograph makes a good metaphor for the practice of mindfulness, or deliberately focusing one’s awareness on the current moment; checking in with physical sensations and emotional feelings with the goal of slowing down and being mentally present in that moment.
While it is also true that the second a photograph is made, the slice of the present it captures has already passed, we also speak of a photography’s propensity to transport our imagination to a singular beat in time. To the extent that we can hold a photograph like this one in our mind, then that gentle breeze blows all the way from 1975 to our present.
Born and raised in New Orleans, Mendes attended the University of Kentucky, where he studied writing with Wendell Berry and began making photographs with friend Ralph Eugene Meatyard. Mendes’ photography has ranged from commercial work to penetrating portraits, to poetic landscapes focused on the environment and preservation.