Behind the Lens
Photographer Cheryl Gerber
If you’ve ever been to a Carnival parade (and why wouldn’t you?) you may have seen an intrepid photographer capturing all the fun. Or when news happens, there she is in the thick of things getting just the right shot. Photojournalist Cheryl Gerber is seemingly everywhere at all times. She has spent a career documenting the events and celebrations that make New Orleans the unique and wonderful place it is.
She recently launched her latest book, “Cherchez la Femme: New Orleans Women,” in which her lens focuses on women that influence the city, including the business world, the restaurant industry, glamorous marching krewes, Baby Dolls, musicians, socialites and burlesque. It is a glowing tribute to New Orleans women. We asked Gerber to step out from behind her camera for a moment and tell us about the book, what it’s like to work with a sometimes difficult subject and all the things she has seen from her view finder.
Q: How did you get your start as a photographer? I studied journalism in college and got my first job as a reporter at the “St. Tammany News Banner.” We only had one staff photographer so I started taking photos to go with my stories. I noticed that each week, my stories got shorter and the photos got bigger. I took that as a hint that I was not a great writer and might be a better photographer. My first big break came in 1995 when I did a story and photo essay for “Gambit” on gutter punks. It won first place photo feature by the Louisiana Press Club and that opened a lot of doors for me.
Q: What inspired you to become a photographer? In 1990, I discovered the iconic photographs of Michael P. Smith, who documented music and street culture in New Orleans. I knew immediately that was what I wanted to do. I called him a half dozen times to ask if I could work for him as an apprentice, until he finally relented. I’ve been photographing New Orleans’ culture ever since.
Q: Who are some of the most fun people you have photographed? I’ve photographed a lot of famous people like Brad and Angelina, Ellen DeGeneres and even Princess Diana. But the most fun people to photograph are the people on the streets of New Orleans, from the second-liners to the Mardi Gras Indians and carnival marching krewes. It’s so energizing!
Q: What do you enjoy photographing the most? That’s a tough question. I love photographing it all. One thing about New Orleans is that I will never get bored or run out of things to photograph.
Q: Without naming names, has there been a subject that was the most difficult to shoot? The Mardi Gras Indians have always been difficult to photograph but for very different reasons 30 years ago and now. Back then, when I was first starting out, the Mardi Gras Indians were wary of photographers and it took a long time to gain their trust. Today, they don’t shy away from cameras but the problem is there are too MANY cameras. Trying to get a clear shot of an Indian on Super Sunday without other cameras in the shot is very hard.
Q: What inspired your new book, “Cherchez la Femme?” The Women’s March in 2017 inspired my new book. When I saw that massive sea of women marching for equal rights, I knew instantly that I wanted to do a book celebrating the amazing and beautiful women who make New Orleans so rich and diverse.
Q: Is there a group or person you wanted to photograph for the book, but couldn’t get? I desperately wanted to include literary and visual artists, as well as women in media, such as Anne Rice, Peggy Scott Laborde and Chandra McCormick. But the book was already getting too big and that would be a whole other book. Perhaps there will be a Volume 2 in the future!
Q: The book is dedicated to Bonnie Warren; why did you choose her? Bonnie has been my colleague, close friend, mentor, and surrogate mother for nearly 30 years. She has introduced me to the most amazing circle of women. She taught me how to do a book as we co-authored two books, “Historic New Orleans Homes” and “New Orleans Homes at Christmas.” Her knowledge and friendship have been invaluable.
Born/raised: New Orleans, raised in Madisonville, Louisiana.
Education: Covington High School and Southeastern Louisiana University.
Favorite restaurant: JoAnn Clevenger’s Upperline.
Favorite book: “The Sympathizer” by Viet Thanh Nguyen.
Favorite Carnival parade: Muses.
Favorite king cake: Bywater Bakery’s Brioche king cake.
True confession: I play clarinet, not very well, but love to play “Big Butter and Egg Man” duet with my husband who is a trombonist.