Explore Art Photography

An Interview with
Debbie Fleming Caffery
O U T   O F   D A R K N E S S

"The true artist must always mix the inner substance of the soul with the essence of the subject to derive droplets of imagery from the resultant alchemy. This magical process requires total involvement of the heart. Debbie Fleming Caffery's work radiates this fusion of her personal passion with the emotional energy of her subjects. From this fundamental union comes the depth and power of her images."
- Francis Ford Coppola, 2002

Emotional and mythic vision pervade Debbie Fleming Caffery’s evocative images of life in Louisiana, Portugal, and Mexico. Her photographs are not objective documents, but poetic stories that capture the mystery and spirit of the people and places she encounters. She has received numerous awards, including the Governor of Louisiana’s award for excellence in the arts and the prestigious Lou Stoumen Award from the Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego. Her work is in the permanent collections of The Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Metropolitan Museum, New York, and the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. The Shadows is her first major monograph in 12 years. Wendy Lewis, Director of photo-eye Gallery, recently interviewed Caffery.

Debbie Fleming
Caffery: The Shadows

Twin Palms, Santa Fe,
2002. 96 pages,
45-tritones, 11x11".

Cat#TT116H, $60
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WL: Many of your photographs convey a powerful emotional response between yourself and the subject of your photography; how do you create these connections? Are they instantaneous or developed over a long period of time? Is this connection with your subjects what you've referred to as ‘falling in love’ with your subjects?
DFC: The attraction I feel to a subject whether it be person, animal, situation or place, develops into a relationship that feels like being in love. I have had a love affair with sugar cane harvesting in Louisiana since l973. I photograph the harvest every season just like the farmer harvests the cane. My work is a visual articulation of an emotional and sensual response to my subjects—to stories heard and the smells and sounds in the environment. I spend years on most of my projects; without the major ingredient of time, these intense relationships would be nonexistent. Each project flows into the other, as can be seen in my new book, The Shadows.
WL: Your work holds a continuum of shadow, darkness and life. What draws you to the darker realms? Can you elaborate on the balance you maintain between darkness and the spark of life within your imagery?
DFC: I grew up in Louisiana in the heart of two distinct, strong cultures known for their great story telling, music and food: Cajun and African-American. I absorbed these cultures into my imagination and am attracted to cultures that are organic and emotional, where I can feel and somehow share the rhythm and beat of the people, where the past is on the shoulders of the community. I am extremely attracted to shades of mystery and shadow. I wait, observe, and listen long enough so that a combination of my emotions and those of my subjects and their environment occur. This lets a brightness come through in my photographs, just as the light and sparks of life are heard in the lullabies I grew up with—old Gospel spirituals and Cajun ballads. My challenge is always to balance the emotions of struggle, tenderness and hope so that it shines through in a body of work.
WL: You have recently moved to Sante Fe; what drew you here and how has the move affected your photography?
DFC: I was invited here as an artist in residence at the Marion Center at the College of Santa Fe, to teach a class in documentary photography. I devoted five months to teaching and printing a new portfolio of my work on "Women of the Night." Being in Santa Fe was so nourishing to my life as an artist that after the residency I did not want to return to Louisiana. Although the people and

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environment of Louisiana had birthed the creativity in my work, I no long felt nourished there as an artist. I have not photographed here much, but the experience of living here has enriched my heart and soul. Being in a community that cherishes and celebrates the creative spirit is the greatest gift of living here. Working with photo-eye and Jack Woody at Twin Palms Publishers has been extraordinary. While living here I have found the time and the support to edit years of work, which has led me to a better understanding of my photographs. Santa Fe—this vast, dry landscape—is such a contrast to the humid South in which I grew up, it inspires me to explore the shadows of my new home.


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