Every December, the city of New Orleans, spearheaded by the New Orleans Photo Alliance, puts on a remarkable festival celebrating the photographic image. It’s called PhotoNOLA. PhotoNOLA is four days in early December where dozens of galleries, many museums, and even local businesses focus on photography–this year boasted over 70 exhibitions held in venues that ranged from a juice bar to the Ogden Museum. Six amazing workshops were offered, two examples were a Wetlands Workshop with photographer Camille Seaman and a Chemigram Workshop with photographer Heather Oelklaus, eleven lectures and two panel discussions took place, and the whole festival was kicked off with a gala event at the New Orleans Museum of Art and a keynote lecture by Emmet Gowin who slayed the crowd with his observations and insights. At the heart of PhotoNOLA are two things: organizer/photographer/educator Jennifer Shaw and the PhotoNOLA Portfolio Reviews–two days of intensive one-on-one sessions with remarkable reviewers–editors from The New Yorker and the NY Times Lens blog, curators from the Crystal Bridges Museum, Pier 24, and the George Eastman house, gallerists and photo center directors, book publishers and a host of luminaries who move careers forward.
Having attended the event two years ago as a reviewer, I truly didn’t see how I could top the experience this year. So to make sure I really had time to experience the city, beyond the festival, I arrived a day early and left a day late. One needs time to wander the French Quarter, to experience the flavors, sounds, and energy of the city. I arrived on Wednesday and was picked up at the airport by none other than Sesthasak Boonchai from the New Orleans Photo Alliance, a very generous gesture that PhotoNOLA provided to the reviewers.
Wednesday night was magical. Photographer Jane Fulton Alt invited our crew to experience Southern Hospitality (with a capital “H”) in her New Orleans home. We felt transported with heaping plates of BBQ and gumbo, live music, and wonderful company. It was a highlight of the week and a fantastic way to start our trip.
On Thursday, eleven photographers set sail along the bayou for a Swamp Tour. Yes, we saw alligators, but they were sound asleep. Which was a good thing. Other photographers enjoyed the safety of dry land and an Education Day with Mary Virginia Swanson.
Thursday night marked the PhotoNOLA gala held at the New Orleans Museum of Art, highlighted by a terrific lecture by Emmet Gowin. After the lecture, the crowds spilled into the museum galleries for a silent auction, crescent moon photo booth, and lots of delicious food and beverages. It was truly a spectacular evening seeing old friends and meeting new ones.
Friday morning the reviews kicked off, held in a ballroom across the street from the International Hotel. There was a steady stream of conversation bringing tremendous energy to the room. The roster of reviewers was stellar and each participant was given significant consideration and feedback.
A second ballroom, the “holding room”, provided the waiting photographers a place to share work, swap war stories, and make connections.
The Friday evening festivities began with the opening of the Currents Exhibition at the Ogden Museum. Juror Roy Flukinger, Senior Research Curator of Photography and former Department Head and Senior Curator of Photography and Film of the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin, lead the masses through the exhibition as he explained his choices and reasoning behind his decisions for the exhibition. He also shared his vast knowledge of photo history and put the work into contemporary context.
After the opening, we all moved upstairs for the Photographer’s Portfolio Walk, where for three hours, photographers shared their work with the public and with reviewers.
Finally, the reviewers were bused to the amazing studio of Josephine Sacabo where we dined by candlelight along side her fantastic creations.
Saturday was another full day of reviews, finishing at 4pm so that photographers could stash their portfolio boxes and get on the buses for the various gallery tours and openings. There was so much fantastic photography to explore, with over 70 exhibitions on display.
On Sunday, I finished my NOLA experience with a Plantation and City Tour, leaving with memories of a city that is unlike no other, and a festival rich with all things photography. I can’t wait to go back. Thank you and bravo to all the hard working folks that made the event so special including Jen Shaw, Millie Fuller, Malory Taylor, Lisette de Boisblanc, and the New Orleans Photo Alliance.
And if you feel like supporting this great festival, each year PhotoNOLA partners with a photographic artist to offer a limited edition print for sale, as a fundraising initiative to benefit festival programming. Meat & Metal, 2013 by David Halliday is their second annual Collectors Club print. Halliday is renowned for depicting elegance in simplicity, beauty in the mundane, and the brilliant vitality of the people, places, and objects that he encounters on a daily basis. The edition of 100 (plus five artists proofs) is an archival pigment print, featuring a 7×9” image size on 10×12” paper. It is available for purchase through PhotoNOLA for $100 + shipping.
I will be featuring work seen at the PhotoNOLA reviews through the next several weeks….
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