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P.3+: 'Five in Four' exhibition showcases an archive of family photography

 

rabbit ears

Rabbit Ears (Photo: Rabbit Ears Facebook)

If you’re walking or driving on Oak Street, sooner or later you’ll get to the 8200 block and a quirky shop called Rabbit Ears. It belongs to Renee Allie, a longtime immigrant from the way cold North -- Connecticut to be exact. With a degree in Italian and art, and not a clue what to do with that, she came to New Orleans in 1984 because her sister, who was working here at that time, said it might be fun since there was going to be a world’s fair.

Renee had never before been exposed to a city like New Orleans and spent her earliest time here taking photographs and soaking up the local culture. She thought she’d stay south for a while. But somehow that got extended and before she knew it something quite wonderful had happened.

“I looked around a year or two later and I had a thousand friends, way more than I had ever had in Connecticut,” she recalls.

So, like so many before her and after, she just never left. There followed a long period working mostly in the retail business, with the occasional diversion of owning an art gallery or working for a series of non-profit organizations.

About a year ago, Renee opened the store on Oak Street. She stuffed it with vintage home items and a selection of other folks’ cast-off art. With Prospect.3+ on the horizon and with four generations of her family members involved in photography, she decided to mount a small but unusual show right there in the store.

The photographs were taken in the years 1910 to 2013; all reproduced from the original negatives, with the majority silver gelatin prints. They reflect the works of her great-grandfather, John Curtis Thomson (1863-1944), a portrait artist and early photographer in Wisconsin; grandfathers Arthur Allie (1874-1953), a sign painter by trade and passionate landscape painter who studied under Robert Henri of the “Ash Can School and Glennon Argenbright (1888-1958), a reluctant farmer in Northwestern Illinois who dreamed of being an engineer; and her father John Allie (1920-2009), a commercial artist and publications editor for the University of Connecticut Agriculture Department.

So it’s hardly surprising that Renee Allie would naturally gravitate to photography as an avocation herself. “I had been doing photography since I was 14,” she says. “My father taught me how to do it and we had our own dark room to produce the prints.”

Her devotion to the art resulted in becoming the one member of her family who chose to be the guardian and collector of all the many negatives left by each of her forbears. And it’s from that collection that Renee produced her tiny P3+ exhibit.

While there are several photos in the display representing family views from World War One or pastoral country scenes taken in places as varied as Wisconsin and Minnesota, the star of the show is the picture of her grandfather Arthur Allie taken by her great grandfather John Curtis Thomson.

John Thomson Arthur Allie with chickens (Photo: courtesy Renee Allie)

Arthur Allie with chickens, taken by photographer John Thomson (Photo: courtesy Renee Allie)

“I had estimated it was taken in 1909,” she says. “But when I got it large enough and I could see what he was reading, I looked it up. It was a magazine, very popular at the time called Everybody’s Magazine, and it was from 1910.”

Renee has written up a description of her family photographers and their bios. And she’s always available to talk to visitors about this endearing tiny exhibition.

“It has been an extremely personal journey for me,” Renee says. “I wasn’t really sure that anyone else would be interested. But turns out they are. So that has made it really fun.”

 Allie's P3+ exhibition "Five in Four" will be on view through February 6, 2015. Closing party is Friday, February 6th; 6-9pm. 

This series on Prospect 3 Plus artworks is made possible by a generous grant from the lawyers of the Lugenbuhl firm, with offices in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Houston, in support of art in the Gulf South.

Sharon Litwin is president of NolaVie. Email her at [email protected]