Renaissance Man

by Walter Pierce

As his photography exhibition hits the road for a world tour, Dickie Landry proves he's an artist of many talents.

As his photography exhibition hits the road for a world tour, Dickie Landry proves he's an artist of many talents. By Tyler F. Thigpen

If you missed Dickie Landry's "New York 1969-1979" exhibit at the Paul and Lulu Hilliard University Art Museum, or just want another look at the collection of images featuring his iconic comrades while living in New York City, his new catalogue contains all 45 photographs displayed. The publication, Dickie Landry's New York 1969-1979, was released this spring by UL Lafayette Press and opens with a short biography by Lance Harris, director of the museum, highlighting a few of Landry's many accomplishments and focusing on his life in New York City. The book, available at the Hilliard UAM store and online via UL Press, walks the reader through the same narratives that accompany the photographs in the exhibit.

One Saturday, Landry joined photographer Lucius Fontenot and me at the exhibit for a personal chronicle of the stills on display from the decade in New York City.

"I'd been going to New York since 1956-1957, around high school," Landry recalls. "My brother was going to Columbia University to get his master's degree in music with a friend of his. My brother's friend was a jazz drummer here in Lafayette; we played together. He bought a 1956 Corvette and said, Let's go visit your brother.' I visited several times over the next few years. I was going to move there in '63, but I got busted for growing marijuana here. I was probated to the state for five years. In hindsight, the best thing that ever happened to me, otherwise I wouldn't have met Philip [Glass] and [Robert] Rauschenberg in '68."

In the exhibition, Landry, a native of Cecilia, captures intimate images of his closest friends and many acquaintances photographed over a 10-year period while living in NYC.

"The reason why I started taking photographs was that I was plumbing with Philip Glass," says Landry as he approaches his pieces, "Jones Beach Piece 1," "2" and "3." "And I met this young girl, Joan Jonas, and she invited me to her first performance at somebody's loft and I borrowed a friend's camera, and he put in the film, and set the f/stop and set the speed. I went, took pictures, and she called me the next morning and said, I saw you there with a camera. Do you want to sell some of your photographs?' And I'm thinking to myself, plumbing or photography?' So that's how I started taking pictures."

Best known for his extensive and diverse musical career as a saxophonist, Landry's visual arts skills take first chair in this project. The black and white exhibit reveals Landry's more obscure talents - his ability to capture, develop and display portraits. In addition to the talent demonstrated, the subjects just so happen to be some of the most important figures in the NYC arts scene in the late '60s and '70s.

"The first month I was in New York, I met the majority of the artists that are in this show, all in one month," says Landry, as he walks the wall and points out his subjects. Landry walks me toward the frame-by-frame montage of William S. Burroughs. "This one of William Burroughs I have a little Bell and Howell wind-up half-frame 35 mm camera; people were not used to shooting sequential shots in those days. We were in Brussels, and he and Terry Southern were signing books I said, Hey, Bill, can I take a picture?"Click, click, I'm clicking. He gives me this one smile and then goes back to his old, crotchety, old self."

The pictures prove that Landry has lived an interesting life. A writer, a painter, a composer and a musician, he is a founding member of the swamp pop super group Lil' Band of Gold. His first exposure to music was singing Gregorian chants in the church choir as a young boy. When his brother, eight years his senior, went into the military, he left Landry his saxophone. At 10 years old, Landry began playing in the school band. He picked up the clarinet at UL Lafayette (then USL) while studying music there from 1957 to around 1963 and was appointed first chair. Throughout his career, among his many accomplishments, he has played in the Swing Kings, was a founding member of the Philip Glass Ensemble, played in an eclectic Creole reggae band, performed as a studio musician for world-renowned musicians and toured with some of the greatest musicians in recent history.

"I think that Lafayette and French Louisiana - it has the locale and the provincialism," says Nick Spitzer, producer and host of American Routes on National Public Radio and professor of American studies and anthropology at Tulane University. "It is also a very worldly place with influences from the French, Spanish, African, Caribbean. It breeds creativity. Dickie is a product of this, and Dickie is also a great product of the '60s, an adventure seeker, with On the Road qualities. Back in the old days, people would express themselves in art, music, photography, and it is getting to be that way once again. For so long, people were to do one thing, and now we are getting back to an older way of doing things. Dickie's many talents certainly deserve more attention; he is a very talented man."

Landry returned from New York City in 1995 to take care of his then 100-year-old mother and has lived in Acadiana since, splitting his time between his downtown Lafayette loft and his 40-acre country home in Cecilia. However, he continues to travel internationally for musical collaborations. Landry is currently working as musical director, composing original music, in French dramatist Jean Genet's play, The Blacks: A Clown Show, with director Robert Wilson, another friend from his tenure in New York City portrayed in the photographic collection. For this role, Landry has been traveling to and from Paris, where the play will open Oct. 3 at the Odeon Theatre. Landry will also be acting in the play, so add acting to Landry's long list of creative abilities; he also performed in Robert Wilson's play 1433 The Grand Voyage at the 2010 Taiwan Film Festival in Taipei.

Landry's exhibit is also on the road. The collection is currently en route to Cologne, Germany, for a September opening and will go to New York City in the spring of 2015. Following those two stops, the show is booked at the University Art Museum at the University of Wyoming in Laramie for a September 2015 opening and will then return to South Louisiana for a Baton Rouge exhibition.
For those interested in seeing more of Landry's photography, he is working on a full book of photographs from his time in New York and is seeking a publisher for the endeavor. The book will showcase hundreds to thousands of his photos, no doubt as intimate and rare as the sub-set displayed in his "New York 1969-1979" exhibit.

"I'm still taking pictures every day. Taking pictures is easy, you see something, you photograph it and you're done. In music, you'll sit in a studio for 30 hours to make one song and still may not complete it. There is no comparison for me. I add photographs to my website all the time. People can go on and check out new pictures and see my old and new pieces; I continue to add to the collection."