Jonathan Traviesa

by OLIVIA SMITH “There’s a certain violence to photography, a certain stealing,” says Jonathan Traviesa. “When someone whips out a camera, there’s immediately a whole new dynamic.” In his portraits, the artist continues, “I work hard to counteract that effect. I try to bring people to their more natural, unconscious selves.” In 1998, Traviesa embarked on what has become an ongoing project he loosely titles “environmental portraits.” Each of the square, black and white photos typically features a counter-culture type in their 20s or 30s (although some are older) outside their homes. “The exterior context—the buildings, back doors and porches that we live around —adds a sense of New Orleans,” Traviesa says. As a group, the portraits strike a balance between seeming natural and self-consciously performative. Like the best photography, what they communicate can’t be summed up in words. “They kind of are what they are,” says Traviesa. “Any-thing else I can say about them isn’t necessary.” A native of Lakeland, Fla., Traviesa moved to New Orleans in his early 20s. He studied with Richard Sexton at the New Orleans Academy of Fine Arts, and now works full-time as Sexton’s assistant. Traviesa’s work has another strain that is more idea-oriented, including a series about the dislocation of traveling abroad. “In my opinion you need a good balance between those two schools,” he says, meaning the conceptual and the more immediately accessible photography exemplified by his portraits. “The extreme of one without the other makes both irrelevant.” •

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