Camille Seaman didn't begin her photography career until she was 32, when a fortuitous trip to Alaska resulted in a personal discovery. She's a member of the Native American Shinnecock Montaukett Indian Nation and grew up on Long Island, New York. After stints surfing and leading hiking trips, she was earning a living sewing her tribe's traditional beadwork when she developed tendonitis. She took a break, got bumped from a flight in Oakland, California, and used a voucher to travel to Alaska. She wanted to see the Bering Strait, where her Native American ancestors first entered North America.
"Standing on the ice was the first time I felt really connected to the world," she says. "We are not separate from nature."
She grew up with the Shinnecock Montaukett belief that stones are made of the blood and bones of ancestors and ice is their tears and sweat, accumulated over thousands of years. The connection was profound for her, and it led to a decade photographing icebergs in the Arctic and Antarctic. Her photos appeared in National Geographic and other publications.
Polar ice proved to be a timely subject, but it's her eye for light that makes her photos stand out. The advice she gives to aspiring photographers, however, echoes her worldview.
"I tell anyone that no matter what I photograph, I wait until I feel something," Seaman says via phone from her northern California home. "I don't have to have a name for it, but I have to feel something. Making images without emotions attached to them makes bad images."
Seaman shares her experiences and coaches photographers in an all-day workshop (Dec. 5) that's part of PhotoNOLA, the annual photography festival created by the New Orleans Photo Alliance. The festival includes portfolio reviews, a keynote address by Emmet Gowin, a gala and exhibitions at participating galleries and museums across the city.
The morning portion of Seaman's workshop is a visit to a swamp. That's a far cry from her work at the poles, but she's spent the last 15 years focused on water, nature and weather. Her fascination with icebergs was personal, but interest in global warming has drawn attention to her work. Massive icebergs breaking off the poles is part of a natural process (albeit accelerated), but a series of photos of polar bears on dry land is a result of climate change, she says. Her photos of icebergs resulted in her becoming a TED Fellow, and she subsequently wrote the essays in her book as a fellow at Stanford University.
In 2011, she decided that flying thousands of miles to photograph diminishing ice was adding to the problem, so she stopped. Massive clouds and tornados in the Great Plains became her new focus. She prefers the panoramic views offered in Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota and her photos typically depict towering mesocyclone systems, which produce tornados.
"I chase light," she says.
PhotoNOLA includes a wide variety of shows and approaches to photography. Seaman gives a talk at 2 p.m. Sunday at Historic New Orleans Collection. Gowin is known for both candid shots of his family, including nudes, and aerial landscape studies. He'll deliver the festival's keynote address at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the New Orleans Museum of Art, and the talk is followed by the PhotoNOLA gala (tickets $25 in advance, $30 at the door) featuring music by Alexis & the Samurai and food from area restaurants.
One of the highlights of the festival is the portfolio review in which a panel of professionals critiques 70 photographers' work. The public can view the works during the Photowalk from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art's Patrick F. Taylor Library.
Rick Olivier, John McCusker and others present a panel discussion about photographing bands and musicians at 4:30 p.m. Sunday at the Old U.S. Mint.
A Chemigram workshop is an exercise in cameraless photography as participants work with light-sensitive paper and darkroom techniques. Colorado College's Heather Oelklaus leads the workshop from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at Scott Edwards Gallery.
There are many photography exhibits opening during the festival or on display in conjunction with it. The list includes Prospect.3 shows, such as Pieter Hugo's stark works from Africa on display at the Contemporary Arts Center, and Richard Sexton's Creole World: Photographs of New Orleans and the Latin Caribbean Sphere expo at the Historic New Orleans Collection's Laura Simon Nelson Galleries.
There's almost a harmonic convergence of inspiration around shows of Polaroid photos. Boyd Satellite gallery features Polaroids by Andres Serrano (creator of the notorious work Piss Christ) and by Ogden photography curator Richard McCabe. Elizabeth Shannon presents her own Polaroid expo at Faubourg Wines. For a full list of exhibits and special events, visit www.photonola.org.