Capturing the Images

PhotoNOLA has a choose-your-own-adventure feel. For the photography fan, the annual festival is a feast of shows at galleries, museums and alternative locations around the city and lectures from artists in the field. But there’s also a path for mid-career photographers who want to work on their craft that includes portfolio review sessions and workshops. The New Orleans Photo Alliance, formed soon after Hurricane Katrina, hosts this annual volunteer-run festival, which this year is celebrating its 10th anniversary. PhotoNOLA director Jennifer Shaw talked to us about the festival, and how photography is still the “redheaded stepchild” of the art world.

How did the festival start? In the dark days after Katrina, Don Marshall [of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation] called photographers together, encouraged them to form a nonprofit, or a craft guild, to band together to help each other out. Out of that, photographers formed the New Orleans Photo Alliance, and one of my dreams for the organization was to have a photography festival. New Orleans is a great town, people love to come visit, there’s great art and photography here – why don’t we just make a festival? Compared to what it is now, the first festival was a homegrown, mellow affair. Shows were at artists’ studios, art markets. Now we bring in keynote speakers, have portfolio reviews, workshops with major photography stars.

I really see it as almost parallel tracks in PhotoNOLA. One is very public, open to everyone – you can pop into to any gallery or lecture series; we’re trying to get the general public excited and interested. But also there’s a sort of professional track for mid-career photographers with more intensive workshops and portfolio reviews.

What are you excited about for this year’s festival? Tina Barney is the keynote speaker, which is exciting. She’s a well-respected master in the field, and one of the first people to start exhibiting large-scale color work. The PhotoWALK is always completely amazing. It’s at the Ogden, and all of the portfolio review participants share their work; it’s 70 photographers showing their prints to people and answering questions. The Cig Harvey lecture Sunday I’m looking forward to; she’s an amazing photographer based in Maine. She’s a fine art, almost conceptual photographer who works with metaphor. Very rich images, drawn from the real world: there’s a magical realism to them. There’s the Matt Black workshop – he’s a really incredible documentary photographer who really blew up this year. But it’s all good.

Shows run the gamut. We’re really democratic about it, accepting listings from anyone who wants to host a show, trying to do matchmaking with venues who don’t have artists or who want us to recommend artists.

Photography wasn’t originally respected as an art form. Do you think that’s still the case? I do think of part of the impetus is starting was to continue to push photography as a worthy art form. New Orleans can be conservative on certain things, while photography is rocking out in New York galleries. It was kind of the redheaded stepchild in New Orleans. And thanks to cell phones, everyone is a photographer, and I’m not sure what that is doing in terms of scope of placement in art world – just creating more people wish they were getting paid? It’s strange. There are all kinds of questions.

PhotoNOLA is Dec. 10-13 at various locations around New Orleans. Information,



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