PhotoNOLA 2013 kicks off tomorrow! Rachel Gorman reports on the festival and its goals.
Like for so many industries and makers in New Orleans, this is a city of both feast and famine for photography. It’s a place abundant with visual and creative inspiration, a rich artistic legacy, and a growing number of photographers with whom to network and collaborate. To hear PhotoNOLA coordinator Jennifer Shaw describe it, New Orleans' photography tradition has “always been strong” but has become richer than ever in the last few years as more and more people have moved to contribute to the base of talented photographers that live and work in the Gulf Coast South.
And yet for the many photographers here, New Orleans offers few resources beyond picturesqueness. The local collector base for photography is (as it is for many mediums) slim. Up until very recently, established purveyors of art in the city have been known to skew so “traditional” that many Julia Street galleries declined to represent photographers at all. Relying on national and international tastemakers for professional support is hardly easier—as vibrant as the local photography scene has become, the community has remained unable to command more than intermittent attention from the art world at large.
The New Orleans Photo Alliance was created to address this scarcity in a manner familiar to anyone following the trajectory of New Orleans’ creative communities post-Katrina: collective collaboration. “We were all so happy to see each other again” after the storm, Shaw says, that the instinct to keep individual methods and projects hush-hush gave way to a “want to share knowledge and work together.” Eight years after its 30-some founders decided to use strength in numbers to raise the profile of photography in New Orleans, the entirely volunteer-run group boasts a network of nearly 300 active members, a yearlong roster of educational opportunities for both artists and the public, and the annual “flagship” photography festival, PhotoNOLA, scheduled to hit New Orleans for its eighth year in a row this week.
Although it began as a small cluster of exhibitions in alternative and unconventional spaces, PhotoNOLA is now associated with more than 60 shows, gallery talks, lectures, and events around the city. And while a flurry of activity takes place over the next four days, exhibitions may last longer than a month depending on their venues. True to the Alliance’s mission to be as much about providing tangible professional development opportunities to their members as it is public access to photography, PhotoNOLA will organize two days of “portfolio reviews,” a tradition specific to the universe of photography in which photographers can sign up for 20-minute sessions with national curators, tastemakers, gallerists, and magazine editors to get feedback on their work. For those seeking other education opportunities, PhotoNOLA is also hosting a series of fee-based workshops and free lectures by the likes of Richard Rinaldi, Sally Gall, and a keynote speech by Deborah Luster throughout the weekend.
PhotoNOLA takes place December 12-15 at various locations in New Orleans. For a full list of events, visit photonola.org.