Can you hear it? Can you hear Larry Gardner’s guitar?
Look through the door window. There he is, exactly as Jenn Ocken captured him one February night in Teddy’s Juke Joint.
Makes you wish you could turn the doorknob, walk in and join the crowd. And, in a way, you’re already among the crowd when standing among Ocken’s photographs, because you’re seeing Teddy’s through her eyes.
You’re experiencing that one night when Gardner played the club.
And somewhere in the distance of your imagination, you can hear the heartbreak in his blues.
“I never want to taint the scene,” Ocken said. “I want to tell a story.”
And though this series of photographs are meant to tell the story of a one-night performance in Teddy’s Juke Joint, it says so much more in this setting.
For Ocken’s series is only one of several that have been brought together to tell the story of the show, Baton Rouge Blues Project: Rainin’ in My Heart.
Calling this a show rather than an exhibition seems more appropriate, for it feels as if you’ve walked into a blues set in progress when entering the Alfred C. Glassell Jr. Exhibition Gallery.
The blues are being performed through photographs on all the gallery’s walls, which is unusual when considering that this show also is the LSU School of Art’s annual summer invitational exhibition.
The show usually features artwork created in a variety of media.
“We still have that,” Malia Krolak said.
She’s the gallery’s director. She also developed the project, “The Summer of Blues: Music, Art and All That Jazz,” in which the gallery joins the Louisiana Art & Science Museum and the LSU Museum of Art in showing blues- and jazz-themed exhibits.
The Louisiana Art & Science Museum opened Rhythm & Improvisation: John T. Scott & His Enduring Legacy on April 20. That show will run through Sunday, July 14, and is accompanied by the exhibit All That Jazz: New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival Posters, which runs through Sunday, Sept. 8.
Meanwhile, on the fifth floor of the Shaw Center for the Arts, the LSU Museum of Art is showing the exhibits Edward Pramuk: Seeing Music and An Eye on Jazz: Photographs by Herman Leonard, both through Sunday, July 14.
And downstairs not only in the Glassell Gallery but in other parts of the Shaw Center’s first floor, Glassell Gallery’s show runs through Sunday, Aug. 4.
So, though photographs fill the gallery walls, there is, indeed, other media in the show.
“We’ve spread it out through the Shaw Center,” Krolak said. “We have paintings in the Manship Atrium, and we’ve included some pieces in the LSU Museum of Art Store.”
That will allow for a bigger crowd when the Glassell hosts its reception for the show from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday, June 13.
“We’ve been needing to spread out,” Krolak said. “The gallery has been crowded during this reception in the last couple of years. The museum store will stay open that night, and everyone will have more room to move around.”
A few sculptures join the photographs in the gallery, but the photographs take center stage here, because they capture actual musicians and the places in which they perform.
This is a project in which visual art captures the art of music — specific musical art known as the blues.
“And Baton Rouge is known for its blues scene,” Krolak said.
“It has a great blues scene,” Ocken added.
Ocken is owner of Jenn Ocken Photography. She’s one of three siblings out of five in a Fort Wayne, Ind., family who chose photography as a profession.
And she was living in Arkansas when a friend introduced her to the blues.
“I was taking portraits and photographing weddings when my friend invited me to a blues festival in Memphis,” she said. “He said, ‘This is what you should be doing.’ ”
So, she did it. She landed a job photographing musicians at blues festivals for King Biscuit Time magazine.
“It was a blues magazine, but it was also a program for the festivals,” Ocken said.
Ocken traveled throughout the United States for the magazine, not only taking photographs but connecting with musicians.
She also kept up her portrait business and eventually was asked to photograph a friend’s family in Baton Rouge.
She was living in Chicago at the time, which has its own connection to the blues. But that connection includes colder, longer winters.
“That was five years ago,” Ocken said. “I didn’t like the cold. So, I came to Baton Rouge, and it’s been great. The economy here is stable, and my clients are great.”
And, of course, there’s the blues scene. Ocken often drives to Teddy Johnson’s club on Old Scenic Highway in Zachary to take photographs for a series of one-night experiences.
The photos of Gardner and Johnson in the Glassell show are part of this project. Ocken took a series of photographs of Gardner, Johnson and the juke joint’s crowd. It’s the story of what happened during that one night.
There’s Johnson dancing with his wife Nancy during one of Gardner’s songs, there’s Johnson acting as DJ during Gardner’s break and, finally, there’s that shot through the door, the one of Gardner in concert.
Well, the photo wasn’t exactly taken through a door window.
“I was facing away from Larry and looking into a mirror,” Ocken said. “So, you can see Larry and the people in the club behind him.”
The old door’s window serves as frame for the print, creating its own optical illusion. For when peering at that photo, it’s as if you really are looking into a world that comes alive at night with the blues.
But probably the most notable photo in this series is Ocken’s shot of Johnson’s hand. She calls the photo “Dad’s Cocktail.”
“I was standing at the bar talking to Teddy when I took that photo,” Ocken said. “There were several of us talking to him, and my camera was resting on the bar. Teddy turned around to say something to someone, and I noticed his hand and how it was holding a glass. And I knew it was a great shot.”
Ocken’s camera was in the right place at the right time.
“It was level with his hand,” she said. ‘I just took the photo. Teddy is always watching me, because he loves a good picture of himself. But this was a time when he didn’t know it.”
And the night only became better.
“Teddy showed me a picture of Larry and him taken when they were kids where the club stands,” Ocken said. “Teddy was born in that blues club. It was a house back then, but it’s where he’s always lived.”
Now, that doesn’t mean Johnson doesn’t venture outside of Zachary.
“I see him at blues festivals throughout the country,” Ocken said. “And I appreciate his support of the blues and blues musicians.”
This series is an ongoing project for Ocken. She assembles each set of one-night photos into a coffee table book-style photo album of which only five copies are published. Once the series is complete, she’ll publish the photos in full-sized coffee table book.
One of the limited-edition albums will be on display during this show named for one of Slim Harpo’s songs.
And yes, this is a show, one where the music is heard.
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