Philip Gould. Festivals Acadeiens after Rainstorm. Copyright: 1982
Tyrone Turner. New Orleans Aerial. Copyright: 2005
Romain Beauxis. Band Practice. Copyright: January 2013
Lance Rosenfield. Courir de Mardi Gras in Mamou, Louisiana. Copyright: 2005
Rence Reese. Alligator Inspection. Copyright: September 2013
Ashlee Michot. Rural Family. Copyright: August 2013
Christopher Porche West. Dut. Copyright: 1980
Pauly Lingerfelt. Medicine Man. Copyright: June 2013
Lee Celano. Girls Pray. Copyright: 1999
New Orleans in Photographs, curated by New Orleans photographer Frank Relle, comprises 1100 photographs depicting the culture of New Orleans and southeast Louisiana: from the intimate to the public, the everyday to the celebratory, and the informal to the grand. New Orleans in Photographs includes 100 large, framed images from fine art photographers, cultural documentarians, and photojournalists, surrounded by 1,000 images culled from social media.
Sponsored by the U. S. Embassy in Moscow, New Orleans in Photographs is a cultural exchange intended to showcase a renowned American city, one known world-wide for its music and food, but one that also came to international attention through the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Relle curated a set of images to broadly introduce a Russian audience to the layered culture of the region, through the formal lenses of 60 professionals and the intimate perspectives of 161 social media photographers. Themes include Family, Food, Landscape, Music, Religion, Sport, Festivals, Mardi Gras, Industry and Architecture. New Orleans is a natural fit for cultural sharing through photographs because many of its traditions are by nature performed. In a Mardi Gras parade, for example, citizens serve as the actors and the audience in a publicly staged production. New Orleanians therefore become accustomed at an early age to stages, masks, and performing for the camera.
Relle believes cultural exchange should reveal human similarities and engage appreciation of differences. Photography succeeds at cultural exchange through the sheer ease of sharing visual information without the need for common written language. New Orleans in Photographs builds on the strength of photography for this task, by acknowledging how people actually encounter cultural imagery in contemporary life: a bombardment of photographs from social media combined with composed images captured by professional documentarians.
The constant «feeds» on social media like Facebook and Instagram offer true-to-life, in-the-moment images of friends and family. New Orleans in Photographs aims to mimic the experience of scrolling through these feeds. An image of a father and son fishing is followed by a cemetery tomb, then a man drinking a beer in a lake, then cheerleaders at an American football game, then a New Orleans brass band. Which one do you «like»? The 1,000 endearing, informal images overwhelm museum-goers, allowing them to let their attention roam and return to the walls in the same way they might distractedly check social media while they are, in fact, viewing the show!
This barrage of images from the public family albums of social media stands in contrast to the 100 professional photographs — framed, labeled, captioned and printed four times larger. These thoughtfully composed, strong images anchor the show. They are often wider views, taken by professionals unrelated to the subjects, and therefore presumably unbiased. Professional photographers have the technical skills and educated backgrounds to create authoritative, definitive images of an event, a culture, a place, a family. They grant us access to places everyday citizens cannot or do not go: a flooded city, a prison, backstage at a concert. Their proficiency with light, color, exposure and focus provides multi-layered visual understanding.
New Orleans in Photographs reflects contemporary conversations in journalism and art, which question the value of refined craft and the informed professional lens. Given the authenticity of unpaid sources on social media, and the omnipresent, searchable nature of their intimate images, do we want or need the formal views of professionals to understand culture?
The dynamic interplay between the didactic professional views and the potential interactivity of the democratic social media views creates a compelling opportunity for cross cultural visual understanding.