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Moments in Time 

For almost two years, New Orleans has been defined by Hurricane Katrina's devastation and its efforts to lure back tourists. But one large exhibit of images by local photographers goes beyond that to reveal the real New Orleans -- past and present.

Bryce Lankard was living a comfortable, professionally successful life in New York when Hurricane Katrina hit. As he watched the storm wreak its devastation on the city he had once called home, his thoughts immediately turned to his many friends and fellow photographers who remained in the drowned city and how he could help them.

"Initially, I tried to imagine who would not be able to cope with the post-Katrina world," Lankard says of the people he worked with in New Orleans before moving to the Big Apple eight years ago. He traveled South shortly after the hurricane to help veteran Gambit Weekly photographer David Richmond evacuate to his mother's home in Dallas. He later gutted Richmond's studio and tried to help him reinvigorate his photography business after losing decades worth of negatives to Katrina's floodwaters. Lankard also put together a successful exhibit of his own photos of the Crescent City, Land of Dreams, in New York, with all the proceeds benefiting New Orleans.

"I realized in coming down here in several trips that there was so much more I could do -- not just in helping to bring the city back but to make it better than it was. I believe that a few people can make a profound change, and I'm a sucker for a cause."

The cause he has taken on is to unite New Orleans photographers in a cohesive unit and make them a commercial force as well as a vehicle for showcasing the city's culture, past and present. He hasn't done it alone. Lankard joined forces with photographer Owen Murphy and arts administrator Don Marshall, executive director of the Jazz and Heritage Foundation, who had been urging arts organizations to work together to produce exhibitions and workshops and to act as a resource for the artists.


BRYCE LANKARD (click for more photos)
FRANK RELLE (click for more photos)

 

"[Marshall's] thought was that you could find more things available (with an alliance) than if you were out on your own," says Murphy. "We were all trying to redevelop a sense of community." Though still in its infancy, the result is the New Orleans Photo Alliance.

The group already has organized Vision/Revision at the CAC, Rituals and Revelry: Depictions of Carnival at Brad Edelman Gallery and Moments In Time: New Orleans at the Crossroads now on exhibit at New Orleans Academy of Fine Arts. The Alliance plans to make Moments In Time a traveling exhibit and take 74 photographs by 15 New Orleans photographers to the 14th International Dixieland Festival of Tarragona in Catalonia, Spain, from March 28-May 27. The group hopes to book the show at other venues in Europe during the summer and throughout the United States after that.

Lankard hatched the idea of the traveling show while he was still in New York, after a friend in Spain contacted him about exhibiting some of his photographs during the Dixieland Festival. Lankard brought the project to the Alliance, which put out a call for artists and selected works from 15 photographers. The show illustrates the breadth of New Orleans culture, both pre- and post-Katrina. The selected photographs explore and reveal the city's cultural identity beyond its tourist facade. Ultimately, the show can prevent New Orleans from being defined -- or re-defined -- by the catastrophic events that Katrina brought.


MARK SINDLER (click for more photos)
JONATHAN TRAVIESTA (click for more photos)

 

"Since Katrina, the dominant photographs have been of the destruction from the storm," Murphy says, "and they're not primarily made by people who live here. The concept behind the show was to show people how photographers who live and work in New Orleans see the city."

The images date back to the '70s, with Michael P. Smith's photos of musicians and second-line funerals and Mark J. Sindler's documentation of the city's vibrant Vietnamese communities. It also brings viewers up to date with photos like Murphy's and Frank Relle's views of the city post-Katrina. In between, there are dozens of artistic glimpses from photographers including Shannon Brinkman, who recorded the '90s bohemian subculture of the French Quarter and Faubourg Marigny; Jonathan Traviesa's environmental portraits; Judy Cooper, who focuses on people who dress up to celebrate, from women decked out in their Sunday best to social aid and pleasure clubs; the decadence-elegance pictures of Richard Sexton; Andy Levin's images of Charity Hospital; Steven Forster, who has covered the drag community for a dozen years; Victoria Ryan's artistic views of Mardi Gras; contemporary images by L.J. Goldstein; and Terrance Sanders' combination of poetry and artistic portraits.

"We wanted to have something that showed a contemporary history of New Orleans, before and after Katrina, and how the different photographers approached the subject matter," Murphy says.

The show is smaller than Lankard initially wanted, but he hopes to expand it as funding becomes available and venues open up to the artists, both in Europe and the United States.

"I had originally envisioned it as being a 200-image exhibition," he says. "My personal vision was to give a broad and accurate portrait of what New Orleans is, including its blemishes, including ... all the things that make us distinctive. While we wanted Katrina to be part of the exhibit, we wanted it to be an almost 30-to-40-year chronology of what makes New Orleans unique ... stuff the world doesn't always see.


JUDY COOPER (click for more photos)
OWEN MURPHY (click for more photos)

 

"There are a number of people trying to open doors internationally for our work to be exposed," Lankard says. "I want to consider this [show in Spain] to be chapter one. I hope this show can grow and travel for the next two years. It can be updated, there can be expansions and growth and new chapters. There can be a post-Katrina world."

Meanwhile, Murphy, Lankard, Jennifer Shaw and a host of others in the photography community are laboring to solidify the New Orleans Photo Alliance.

It already has registered as a nonprofit organization with the state and plans to seek nonprofit status on a federal level. That would open the door to grant and funding opportunities. All funds for show expenses now come from membership dues and submission fees. Future plans include acquiring a permanent space that will house administrative offices as well as a space for exhibits. Even with nonprofit status, there's no guarantee the group will receive grants. "There's a lot of competition out there," Murphy says. "As a new organization, we're really at the end of the line (for funding). Organizations who have been around longer and have proved themselves are at the front of the line."

The Alliance Web site relays information about shows being developed in New Orleans and outside the area, those already on view, workshops and other opportunities. It also includes a message board where photographers can communicate with each other. The group has launched Photo NOLA, which allowed galleries and venues around the city to exhibit photographs by local photographers during "photo month" in December. The Alliance plans to make it an annual event that will grow to include programs, workshops, gallery shows, studio openings and more, promoted on a national and international level to make New Orleans a photographic destination.

"One of the great things about photography is it is a great democratic medium," Lankard says. "Anyone can shoot it. It's a great art form, but it's also a great documentary tool. It can be a documentary record of the rest of our culture."

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