The New Orleans Photo Alliance (NOPA) formed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures when photographers flocked to the city to document the disaster and rebuilding.
"All these newspapers and magazines from all over the world were sending photographers," says NOPA organizer Jennifer Shaw. "Local photographers were like, 'Hey, look at us, we're here!'"
With the growth of the group's annual photography festival PhotoNOLA, photographers are coming here now for exposure and professional development. The alliance now has more than 400 members, and the festival includes artist talks, workshops and more than 45 shows across the city.
Loli Kantor, a Texas-based photographer, participated in the professional portfolio review last year, was awarded a prize by the review panel and returns this year with a solo show.
"I had gone to Fotofest in Houston and Photolucida in Portland (Ore.), and people told me I should go to New Orleans," Kantor says.
Professional photographers who sign up for the portfolio review workshop get individual feedback from photographers, gallery and museum curators and other professionals who work with documentary and art photography. The public can meet and view the work of the 65 photographers enrolled in this year's review at the free Photowalk (5 p.m.-7 p.m. Saturday) at the International House Hotel.
Last year, Kantor presented photos from her exploration of surviving Jewish communities in Ukraine. The daughter of Polish Holocaust survivors, she expected to find pockets of mostly older Jewish people (survivors of the Soviet regime more than Nazism), but instead she found small but strong communities maintaining their traditions. Since 2004, she has traveled to Ukraine several times to photograph different communities, and she'll return a week after PhotoNOLA. At the festival, she has a solo show at Antenna Gallery, and she will give a talk at Martine Chaisson Gallery (3 p.m. Saturday).
The top award from the 2010 portfolio review went to Jungeun Lee, a native of South Korea and resident of Dallas, who is working on several series of photos dedicated to South Korean women forced into sex slavery by invading Japanese armies during World War II. The pictures feature ghostly images of traditional women's clothing and other mementos signifying their silent suffering. She's presenting a suite of works from several projects at NOPA's home gallery (1111 St. Mary St.) and she'll participate in a panel discussion on photographing war at the Contemporary Arts Center (6 p.m. Sunday).
The list of PhotoNOLA exhibitions includes the shows by last year's review honorees as well as exhibitions curated for the 2011 event and other concurrent shows, including some for the art biennial Prospect.2 and the Josephine Sacabo show at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. The diverse array of subject matter ranges from the 1926 survey of Louisiana plantations by Robert Tebbs, presented at the Presbytere, to the erotic works of celebrity portrait photographer Michael Grecco, presented at Larry Flynt's Hustler Club.
The festival's official gala and benefit party is Thursday, and there are artist talks and workshops throughout the week. Visit the website (www.photonola.org) for a full list of events and preview of photographers' work.