When the levees broke during Hurricane Katrina, the rushing waters inundated jazz historian Michael White’s home, destroying his papers, recordings and beloved collection of vintage clarinets. The heartbroken scholar, also a jazz clarinetist, has found a measure of solace in Eric Waters’ elegaic photographs, now at Mason Murer Fine Art, and you will too, in a gallery experience enhanced by Atlantan Kevin Sipp’s poetry and White’s music.
Waters approached the project with obvious tenderness. And empathy: The floods ruined much of his life’s work as well. He arrays clarinets like fallen soldiers in some of the images, and in others lays flowers beside them as if in a funeral display.
To my eye, the less artifice the better. The most touching images are the close-up views, in which rows of clarinets fill the picture frame like a tapestry. The photos are as beautiful as they are sad. Ironically, corrosion has left gorgeous patinas of shocking turquoise and shiny rust, which plays off the solids and voids of the brass keys and air holes.
A clarinet may not be significant in the grand scheme of losses endured, but somehow these pictures serve as a metaphor for Katrina tragedies large and small. As White has said, “The instruments no longer sound, but they still can speak.”
Sipp and Waters, who now lives in Atlanta part time, have turned their work into a book. Autographed copies of “The Solemn Sounds of Silence,” which includes the photographs, poems and an essay by Sipp, will be available at the gallery on August 20 for $40.