The PhotoNOLA Festival of Photography, put on by the New Orleans Photo Alliance (NOPA), has gathered hundreds of artists, experts, and admirers to celebrate photography for the past 14 years. The mission of NOPA is to encourage the understanding and appreciation of photography through exhibitions, opportunities, and educational programs. Four full days of events (many free and open to the public) were dedicated to that mission, as they provided opportunities for networking, sharing, and learning.
"It's so rewarding to join forces with such amazing local institutions and to bring top industry professionals to Louisiana artists each year," said Lisa Cates, the NOPA board President. "The festival keeps New Orleans on the international photography scene in a big way."
From artist talks and exhibit openings to workshops and photo review sessions, the festival has a jam-packed schedule, and Cates explained that planning for it requires a committee that works diligently for an entire year.
"The PhotoNOLA committee, a part of the New Orleans Photo Alliance, worked with artistic director Jennifer Shaw at the helm to begin planning the festival in January," she explained. "The festival comes together through collaboration with museums, galleries, private spaces, artists, community groups, and nonprofits who share our mission to encourage the appreciation of photography."
Every year, PhotoNOLA has a keynote speaker, and usually, they are brought in from out of state. This year, however, the keynote speakers were Keith and Chandra McCormick, a couple native to New Orleans that has been documenting Louisiana culture for over 40 years. They presented a powerful, eclectic body of work to a full auditorium at NOMA that included photos from the Angola Prison, second lines, Mardi Gras, and more.
"Their presentation was so intimately local. It was a special opportunity to share with our own community and the photo community visiting from out of town," said Cates.
The festival featured various photography exhibitions at over 70 venues across New Orleans. Cates explained that they're always striving toward diversity both in their leadership and program attendance. With that said, she expressed particular excitement about the Lions Shadow exhibition held at the Stella Jones Gallery; it's a juried exhibition of emerging Louisiana artists from the African Diaspora, many who have their work in a gallery for the first time through the show.
In addition to the Stella Jones Gallery, exhibit venues ranged from neighborhood bars to major art museums like the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA). Brian Piper, the Assistant Curator of Photographs at NOMA, says that he looks forward to the festival every year and attributes its diversity and success to both organizers and participants.
"The New Orleans Photo Alliance showcases talented local photographers and brings in artists from around the world so we can experience some really top-notch work," he said. "I've heard curators, gallerists, and photographers from other cities remark at how wonderful the sense of community is at PhotoNOLA, and that's due to the efforts of the New Orleans Photo Alliance and the dedicated photographers here that continue to participate every year."
In addition to the exhibitions, a huge part of the PhotoNOLA Fest every year is the portfolio review sessions. Photographers seeking critique get the chance to meet and show their work to various publishers, editors, and curators, invited by the PhotoNOLA committee, for useful feedback. After reviews, a photowalk is hosted at the Ogden Museum. Photographers that had their work reviewed can layout and display their photos for the public to view.
Allison Stewart, a Los Angeles-based photographer, said that this is her third year attending the festival and that the review sessions are one of her favorite parts.
"I'm at a critical point where I'm about to finish this project I'm working on, so it's the perfect time to get feedback. The reviewers are really just incredible, smart people, and have been so helpful," she said. She also added that she appreciates the networking opportunities offered. "It's so wonderful to meet all of these different, amazing photographers. It's a community building, and that's what's really exciting."
The 2018 PhotoNOLA review prize winner, Rich Frishman, had his work "Ghosts of Segregation" exhibited at this year's festival in the NOPA Gallery (open until the first week of February), and board member Jennifer Williams led an excellent discussion with him at the opening on the final night of the festival.
"This project comes from my notion that our built environment really reveals our society's priorities and prejudices," said Frishman. "We need to pay attention to our history, because it's not just history, it's current events."
Frishman added that his participation in last year's festival has opened doors for his photography career. He explained that after winning the review prize, he received opportunities such as having two large prints of his pieces acquired and exhibited at NOMA this past spring and early summer.
"None of that would've happened without PhotoNOLA, and I continue to accrue benefits from it [winning the 2018 review prize]."
PhotoNOLA galleries will stay open through the winter; visit their website to see where they are (https://photonola.org), and visit NOPA's website (https://neworleansphotoalliance.org) to keep up with future events hosted or to learn more about how to get involved with the alliance. The PhotoNOLA committee will begin to planning again next month for PhotoNOLA 2020l; it will be the festival's 15th anniversary.
"The PhotoNOLA Festival represents the spirit and resilience of New Orleans," said Cates. "Through a strong team of volunteer leaders and collaboration between museums, galleries, nonprofits, and individuals, we are able to celebrate photography together with rich and diverse programming."