Hundreds of photographers, both professional and aspiring, along with professionals within the field and admirers of the craft, gathered for an extended weekend of learning, sharing, and networking throughout the city at the 13th annual PhotoNOLA Photography Festival. From December 12 through 15, the New Orleans Photo Alliance hosted a variety of events, the majority of which were free and open to the public, geared towards celebrating the art of photography.
“The PhotoNOLA Festival is important to New Orleans because it brings national attention to photographers in our region and encourages the appreciation of photography locally,” explained Lisa Cates, the festival board president who oversaw this year's festival.
On Wednesday evening, the festival kicked off with a gala that included live performances from Thomas Glass, Quianna Lynell, and LaMancha Jazz Band. Later in the evening, a silent auction was led by Mark Romig that featured photographs donated by more than 25 respected photographers, such as Gus Bennett, Dan Burkholder, and Susan Burnstine; proceeds from the auction went to support the New Orleans Photo Alliance.
Through the remainder of the week and into the weekend, events continued at a variety of museums, galleries, and studios throughout the city, including the Contemporary Art Center, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, A Gallery for Fine Art Photography, and others.
“I love that this is making the community aware of all of these wonderful creative-space galleries and studios we have,” said Cosette Richard, a New Orleans-based professional documentary photographer and videographer whose “Secondline Babies” collection was displayed at the NEW ORLEANS BEYOND TOMORROW: Community, Culture, Commerce exhibition, held at Ashé Power House Theatre. Richard is a member of Ashé’s Side-by-Side program, a program she said has been instrumental in her photography development, as she has acquired mentors and networking opportunities to work with other artists through the program.
“When I looked at the festival’s program directory, I was like, ‘Wow, I’m from New Orleans and had no clue we had such a wonderful selection of arthouses, creative spaces, and platforms for people like me,’” she continued. “It’s something for everyone, no matter your skill set, no matter where you are in your artist journey.”
The exhibit at Ashé Power House Theatre was one of over 50 exhibits in New Orleans that have been on display throughout the month of December as part of the festival. In addition to exhibitions, other aspects of the fest included artist talks, book-signings, lectures, and workshops held by a plethora of photographers from around the world.
Larry Everage, a New Orleans-based professional photographer who specializes in portrait and lifestyle photography, said that he finds events such as these inspiring. “Being in a room filled with people who do what I do can help me tap into my creativity and maybe lead to a project that I’ve been wrapping my brain around for weeks,” explained Everage after a lecture and book-signing by Sheila Pree Bright, an Atlanta-based, award-winning photographer who is also often referred to as a cultural anthropologist.
“What I loved most about this lecture was that the photographer was African American, like myself, in a field where we are still under-represented for the most part. It was also cool to see she picked up the camera for some of the same reasons that inspired me to do so,” he elaborated.
Another aspect of PhotoNOLA Fest that was crafted to help photographers excel was the portfolio review sessions. Rooms were set up in a “speed-dating” manner, and the event gave photographers the opportunity to meet in 20-minute sessions over the course of two days with various publishers, editors, and curators, hand-selected by PhotoNOLA Fest organizers, to get constructive, useful feedback about their work.
Some of this year’s reviewers included Donny Bajohr, associate photography editor of the Smithsonian Magazine; Stacey Baker, associate photo editor of The New York Times Magazine; Richard McCabe, curator of photography at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art; and Deirdre Read, photo research editor of O, The Oprah Magazine, Woman’s Day, and Popular Mechanics.
“Without leaving the room, I get a chance to meet a number of artists—many of whom are new to me—and both learn about their work and offer feedback,” said Brian Piper, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation curatorial fellow for photography at the New Orleans Museum of Art. He said that he found this experience—his first year as a reviewer—very rewarding. “As a curator, it is a great chance to see what new projects people are working on that I might like to follow, and perhaps include in future exhibitions. On top of that, it's nice to connect with other people who are passionate about photography.”
After two days of review sessions, participating photographers were able to lay out their work at the festival’s photoWALK event, which was held at the Ogden Museum. The public had the opportunity to walk through aisles of tables filled with printed photos to view and talk to photographers about their work.
“You get people you generally don’t get to meet because a lot of the photo editors aren’t as accessible as they may be in other professions,” said Lisa Guerriero at the photoWALK. Guerriero, a Los Angeles-based street photographer, explained that although this is her first year participating in the portfolio reviews, it is her fifth year attending the PhotoNOLA festival.
Cates explained that although this festival is one both nationally and globally recognized, she feels as if not as many locals have an awareness of it. She attributes it to the festival culture of New Orleans and the fact that due to the frequency of festivals hosted in the city, some tend to go unnoticed. However, she said that this year, in making a strategic effort to notify more locals through partnerships with galleries, museums, and businesses, there was an evident improvement in local awareness and participation. All in all, Cates and the PhotoNOLA festival committee were pleased with this year’s outcome.
“Everyone thought it was going to be fun; everyone said it was going to be lucky number 13, and it was,” said Cates. “It was awesome!”
Cates has been involved with the PhotoNOLA festival for the past five years, on various planning committees for three years, and the festival board president for the past two years. She explained that a festival of this nature and magnitude, involving so many aspects and elements, requires about a year of planning; committees will commence the planning for PhotoNOLA 2019 in January.
Though the PhotoNOLA Festival is the largest event that the New Orleans Photo Alliance hosts, they also hold exhibitions throughout the year, award grants to local photographers, and this year, they even hope to host a block party in the spring with surrounding businesses. Cates said that there is always room for volunteers on various committees. She encourages those wanting experience in putting together a gallery or generally just wanting to get to know and become better acquainted with the New Orleans photography community to head to neworleansphotoalliance.org and consider volunteering or becoming a member.