George Dureau was born in 1930, raised and, for the most part, stayed in New Orleans his entire life – leaving only to serve in the army and also to briefly study architecture. He began drawing when he was young, encouraged by his mother to capture courtyard scenes and magnolias. As an adult, he moved to the French Quarter and lived as one might have in Paris at the same time.
Two years after his death, George Dureau is finally getting the recognition he deserved but never really pursued. For an art photographer, having an Aperture Foundation large-format monograph devoted to your work is the gold standard of recognition, and when Aperture published George Dureau, The Photographs last month, it assured his place in photography’s pantheon, a position further enhanced by his inclusion in upcoming museum symposiums at New York’s Museum of Modern Art and elsewhere.
Dureau was born in New Orleans’ Irish Channel neighborhood in 1930, about four miles from the city’s French Quarter, where he spent the majority of his life making paintings, sculptures, and photographs — both in the studio and on the street. Forty years of Dureau’s portraits have recently been published in a new Aperture book, The Photographs, a volume that arrives over 30 years after Dureau’s only other book was published in 1985.
[George] Dureau began taking pictures in the nineteen-sixties, with a Hasselblad. He did not think of photography as a “total” artistic medium, the way drawing and painting were, but his photographs are his best work, maybe because it’s the work he cared less about. His drawings and paintings are romantic in a different way; they are too suffused with his sensibility, or self-regard. The camera gave him a certain distance, and the pictures a moral ambiguity or weight that’s missing in his other work…
In 2012, Higher Pictures in New York exhibited a selection of George Dureau’s photographs of New Orleans locals shot between 1973 and 1986. Dureau traveled in the high art world but also allowed his work to be displayed in the legendary leather-S/M magazine Drummer. That exhibit, thankfully, sparked renewed interest in Dureau’s work, which led to a new monograph, George Dureau: The Photographs, published by Aperture in June of this year.