We present here our first class of Louisianians of the Year. In doing so we defined some key categories: Conservationist, Visual Artist, Civic Activist, Educator, Celebrity, Chef, Musician and Entrepreneur. There are other important, higher profile categories that we could have looked at – politics and sports being among them – but these chosen eight represent to us an impressive cross-section of local creativity. Thanks to all of them for their good works; thanks to all of you for providing an active state in which those works can be appreciated.
Photographer / Monroe
Louisiana landscapes through a lens.
The idea of using a kayak to explore Louisiana bayous didn’t occur to Jenny Ellerbe until “sort of late,” she says, perhaps because of the demanding schedule she’d kept during a 20-year career as a pediatric intensive care nurse. Even though the Monroe native had grown up smack in the middle of a region considered a sportsman’s paradise, “I was not really an outdoors person,” she says.
That changed one day when Ellerbe, who had for years done amateur photography, decided to seek a new view of her surroundings – from a kayak on the bayou.
“In a kayak, you’re down at the water level,” she says. “Winding through the cypress trees and Spanish moss, I was actually in the middle of it. It was like the light bulb came on, and I said, ‘Oh, my God.’”
The experience sparked a connection with her environment that Ellerbe had never felt before. “I rediscovered the wetlands of northeastern Louisiana and probed their depths with the reverence of a first-time explorer,” she wrote in a statement about her art.
Ellerbe’s photographic depictions of Louisiana and its wildlife have landed her work in the permanent collections of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston and the Masur Museum of Art in Monroe.
Through exhibitions at galleries in sites from New Orleans to Dallas to Boston, her work garnered an audience that she has expanded through her books, including the 2008 hardcover monograph, Here is Home, and the more recent Lenswork Extended #89.
Ellerbe’s moody black-and-white photos give emotional expression to the bayou scenes and rural landscapes of Ouachita, Union, East and West Carroll, Morehouse and Richland parishes, a region she says will always be home.
“Even if I moved away, I would be coming back all the time to photograph it,” she says. “I’m just so connected to this place and land, I can’t imagine not coming back to it.”
In a departure from her landscape photos, Ellerbe’s latest project deals with documenting the ancient Indian mounds of northeastern Louisiana, which date back thousands of years.
“I’m working with archeologists to find the mounds and contact land owners to get permission to photograph,” she says. Her goal is to create a photographic display that can be taken to schools and libraries to help explain the mounds’ significance and encourage preserving them rather than “just plowing them under.”
Ellerbe’s photographs can be seen at jennyellerbe.com.