Deborah Luster ~ Tooth for an Eye

One of the many pleasures of New Orleans is the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. The photography curator and artist in his own right , Richard McCabe, has produced some stunning shows in the last few years. Most recently is the Tooth for an Eye : A Chorography of Violence in Orleans Parish by Deborah Luster. The exhibit took my breath away in its depth and breadth of handling the difficult and painful issue of violence in our cities. This is very important work and incredibly well done. 

Grid of Deborah's photographs at the Ogden

Gun violence is a subject that I once entertained exploring but did not have the stomach for it. As an alternative  I decided to start a blog to document daily shootings "In My Backyard."  After two days I had to stop as it was too disturbing to start my day knowing who died and where the most recent act of violence occurred. I am deeply grateful to Deborah for creating this body of work that so eloquently discusses a very dark side of the human condition.

In Deborah's words...

"With a homicide rate nearly ten times 
the national average, New Orleans stands today, as it did as far back as the 1850"s as the homicide capital of the United States." 

"TOOTH FOR AN EYE:A CHOROGRAPHY OF VIOLENCE IN ORLEANS PARISH is a project that attempts to take a very close look at something that no longer exists - an invisible population - in the only way in which one can approach such things, obliquely and through reference. The result is a photographic archive documenting contemporary and historical homicide sites in the city of New Orleans and is as well, an exploration of the empty, dizzying space at the core of violence."

"The images that populate the archive were collected with an 8x10 Deardorff field camera. The exposures in these photographs are long, and much of the action-mechanical, botanical, and human -is rendered as spectral blur, a physical representation of time like some isotropic fog, depth without defined dimension."

"Chorogrpahy is a form of geography that describes the inherent attributes of a place. These attributes may be physical, sociological, conceptual, metaphysical, or sensory. Tooth for an Eye not only documents sites where violence has occurred, it also finds itself documenting the city's physical loss as her unique material culture crumbles and transforms following generations of political failure. Many buildings that served as backgrounds for violent death have disappeared since they were photographed for this project."

 "In the atavistic culture of New Orleans, so alive with the historic, symbolic, and sensual, there exists a porousness between the worlds of the living and the dead, where time bends and flows, and neither world lives or dies free of the other's space or influence."

 These portholes have color video, one for family and one for friends...underlining the fact that many lives are at stake here,  not just those of the victims or the perpetrator.

You can check Deborah's website to see where else the work has been exhibited.
Deborah's book, Tooth for an Eye, is available on Amazon.

The Magic of New Orleans

I am just back from a full 10 days in New Orleans. The city never, ever fails to disappoint. Little did I know when I scheduled the trip that  St. Patricks day and Super Sunday would fall during that time. New Orleans is notorious for their masked parades and celebrations. Learning more about the Mardi Gras Indians and their long history was a gift. When I served in the Lower Ninth Ward post Katrina, I kept hearing how all the artifacts, costumes and traditions were "gone." I am happy to report the tradition is back in full force and quite spectacular.  

Wondering what this is all about?

Text  is provided byWikipedia...

Mardi Gras Indians are African-American Carnival revelers in New Orleans, Louisiana, who dress up for Mardi Gras and other special occasions in suits influenced by Native American ceremonial apparel.

 The idea of letting loose and embracing traditional African music and dance is a backbone of the Mardi Gras Indians practice.
Aside from Mardi Gras Day, the most significant day for the Mardi Gras Indians is their Super Sunday. The New Orleans Mardi Gras Indian Council always has their Indian Sunday on the third Sunday of March, around St. Joseph's Day. 
Mardi Gras Indian suits cost thousands of dollars in materials alone and can weigh upwards of one hundred pounds. A suit usually takes between six to nine months to plan and complete.

  Each Indian designs and creates his own suit; elaborate bead patches depict meaningful and symbolic scenes. Beads, feathers, and sequins are integral parts of a Mardi Gras Indian suit. 

Collectively, their organizations are called "tribes". There are about 38 tribes. They range in size from a half dozen to several dozen members. The tribes are largely independent, but a pair of umbrella organizations loosely coordinate the Uptown Indians and the Downtown Indians.

If you want to learn more, check out The House of Dance and Feathers website, a cultural museum based on Ronald Lewis's participation in the culture of the Mardi Gras Indians and the keeper of the history.

                           St. Joseph Altar 

Beasts of the Southern Wild ~ The Movie

Beasts of the Southern Wild was a tour de force. Many people spend a lifetime trying to give expression the "all of it." I came out of the theater last night speechless and profoundly touched. New Orleans, Louisiana, life, death, and art all rolled into one. BRILLIANT! Clearly the muses were at work during it's creation. It is a most eloquent expression of what it means to be alive. See it...and see it NOW!

Mardi Gras and Liminality

As Mardi Gras is in full swing in New Orleans, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge the importance of celebration, when the ordinary gets transformed into the extraordinary.

We had a fundraiser this past weekend for Ragdale, a most amazing place that supports the creation of art making in all its forms. We went the full nine yards...Sazerac cocktails, Barq's Rootbeer, Abita Beer, crayfish boil, jambalaya, mac and cheese, roasted ham, pickled okra, braised collards, sweet potato pecan pie, king cake, pralines, live cajun music and a reading by award winning cajun poet, Beverly Matherne. We are still in recovery mode but savoring the after glow of a great celebration of art, food, friends and life.

In anticipation of the Mardi Gras celebration, I have been thinking in images and after some effort, I found 2 that nicely reference the concept of liminality, " a psychological, neurological, or metaphysical subjective state, conscious or unconscious, of being on the "threshold" of or between two different existential planes... "

"those in-between situations and conditions that are characterized by the dislocation of established structures, the reversal of hierarchies” ( from wikipedia)

The idea of masquarade is so embedded in New Orleans. Anything goes, especially during Mardi Gras season.

This past weekend there was a great article in the travel section of the New York Times on 36 Hours in New Orleans. There were some great suggestions for traveling there. If you can't get there for this year's Mardi Gras (which is happening now) I just discovered how to join the fun from afar...there is a Mardi Gras Webcam that is rolling today at 3pm to cover the Tucks, Proteus and Orpheus parades and tomorrow, Mardi Gras at 10 a.m for the Rex parade. Just click HERE.


More ramblings about New Orleans

One of the great things about traveling is dipping into new experiences. New Orleans was filled with them. There is a spirit and soul to the city unlike any other and I felt so privileged to partake in its riches. It is a raw city with the humanity spilling out into the streets.

When I first arrived I missed the turn off for the city and ended up in Algiers, where I took the Broken Steeple photograph in 2005, post Katrina. I photographed the church again with my iphone. Although much has been repaired and rebuilt since the storm, some things have not.

What you can't see in the photograph is a white tent that is located on the parking lot to the left of the church where services are held.

I visited the New Orleans African American Museum on the last day of the Prospect 2 show and it was there that I came across the amazing work of Harlin Miller. He was born and raised there and his work speaks for itself. It was riveting. The pieces are created out of newspaper print and speak volumes in a very quiet, understated way.

© Harlin Miller ~ Abandonment

© Harlin Miller ~ More Prayer Than Planning

Another highlight was hearing John Boutte sing Hallelujah at d.b.a. He won the Best of the Beat Awards and hearing him sing was truly a religious experience. The power of music is unparalleled as it is universally understood. New Orleans is where all the musicians are flocking and it is a true musical extravaganza every day and night. I told my father, aged 92, that if I ever return in another life, I would like to be a musician to which he responded "it's not too late, why don't you start lessons now?"

The Ogden Museum of Southern art had an exhibit of Will Henry Stevens's Louisiana Waterways. I loved his insights into artmaking...

"It has been my experience, and I think the experience of all serious creative artists, if they have the good fortune of working over a long period of time, gradually to depart from the representation of surface appearance and to develop symbols expressive of cosmic values. Art is based on emotional understanding, a feeling of that which lies back of appearance, and on the creative power to reconstruct in visual or audible terms the artist's feelings and moods. There is always the desire to express the harmonious inter-connection of each and every element, and to create a feeling of wholeness more satisfying than our ordinary experience in time. The practice of art is a way to knowlege, since the artist continually learns through experience."


David Halliday on Seeing, Really Seeing

Do you want elegance? Check out the work of David Halliday. I have, and did at the newly opened show at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. David's quietly elegant still lives are beautifully composed and have a meditative quality that, if you have ever tried, is difficult to achieve.

I am finishing a wonderfully written book titled, The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, a book that uses baseball as the medium for exploring life's challenges.There was a passage I found really compelling about doing and being. "The shortstop has worked so hard for so long that he no longer thinks. Nor does he act. By this I mean that he does not generate action. He only reacts, the way a mirror reacts when you wave your hand before it...Sophie told him to relax, stop thinking, be himself, be the ball, don't try too hard. You could only try so hard not to try too hard before you were right back around to trying too hard. And trying hard, as everyone told him, was wrong, all wrong...The shortstoop has worked so hard for so long that he no longer thinks - that was just the way to phrase it. You couldn't choose to think or not think. You could only choose to work or not work. And hadn't he chosen to work? And wasn't that what would save him now? When he walked onto this field tomorrow he would carry a whole reservoir of work with him, the last three years of work with Schwartzy, the whole lifetime of work before that, of focusing always and only on baseball and how to become better. It was not flimsy,that lifetime of work. He could rely on it."

Anyone who has tried to compose a photograph knows what this is about. I have made many many images that feel contrived, trite and overworked. What I find so amazing about David's work is its presence, it's meditative quality and how we are able to experience these still lives without a middleman. David has somehow taken himself out of the picture and allowed us to have a primary experience with what we are seeing. No small feat.

From the Ogden Museum website...

"A master of light, New Orleans photographer David Halliday, produces lush and elegant images that are both classical and modern. Using window light to illuminate his subjects, Halliday’s direct formal approach offers a fresh take on the historic art prototypes of still life and portraiture. The simplicity of his visual language produces images that transcend time."

The Ogden Museum has had many wonderful sure to stop there if you are visiting New Orleans. Their exhibitions never disappoint!

Christopher Porche West of New Orleans

To walk by Christopher Porche West's studio is to flirt with the muses. There is something about his space that pulls you in, capturing a sense of the soul of New Orleans. When entering into his studio (or to my mind, an installation) one is reminded of the Joseph Campbell boxes. Well aged architectural artifacts encase his photographs with candles scattered through out, creating a sacred environment and offering a testimony to New Orleans's rich heritage. Tucked into the Bywaters neighborhood, it was a treat to behold. West's work is also on display at Snug Harbor on Frenchmen's Street but to get the full effect, you must visit his studio.

"Porché West’s artful expresssions exists at the nexus of photography and sculpture, the point where photography and sculpture converge. Dramatic and thought-provoking photographs are “housed” within salvaged architectural elements adorned with thought-provoking, symbolic objects. The net effect is additive - the sum is greater than the parts - photographs encorported within sculpture deepen the meaning and message of the art."

"It is Porché West’s contention that flat photographs fail to achieve the richness and dimensionality of photographic sculpture. Though a framed photograph can tell a good story, a photograph “housed” in sculpture gives a more nuances and deep narrative. Salvaged architectural debris door casings, flooring, window frames, knobs and pulls give the photograph a sense of place, an authenticity that comes from being at home in the soul of the artist’s works."

"Porché West’s assemblage is cultural “curatorialism” masked as art. The simple behaviors and beliefs of ordinary people are universal and easily understood. Religious faith, death and burial rituals, celebration and suffering are comprehended, if not shared, by all humanity. To see one’s own emotions in the face of a Haitian child or the hands of an elderly woman in New Orleans, is to be reminded that that which binds us together is greater than that which divides us. We are in essence, one."

Jennifer Shaw and Her Hurricane Story

Given that I am in New Orleans, I thought I would stick with the New Orleans theme. One of the most creative bodies of work to come out if the Katrina disaster was the work of Jennifer Shaw. The timing of the hurricane and the birth of her child collided and she told her story with the camera.

We left in the dark of night. 2007

In her words...

"I was nine months pregnant and due in less than a week when Hurricane Katrina blew into the Gulf. In the early hours of August 28, 2005 my husband and I loaded up our small truck with two cats, two dogs, two crates full of negatives, all our important papers and a few changes of clothes. We evacuated to a motel in southern Alabama and tried not to watch the news. Monday, August 29 brought the convergence of two major life changing events; the destruction of New Orleans and the birth of our son. It was two long months and 6000 miles on the road before we were able to return home."

At the motel in Andalusia we tried not to watch the news. 2007

The Next Morning We Turned on the TV

"Hurricane Story is a depiction of our family’s evacuation experience - the birth, the travels and the return. These photographs represent various elements of our ordeal. The project began as a cathartic way to process some of the lingering anger and anxiety over that bittersweet journey. It grew into a narrative series of self-portraits in toys that illustrate my experiences and emotional state during our time in exile."

At 3:47 a boy was born. 2006

In spite of it all there’s no place like home. 2007

Jennifer is one of the founders of the New Orleans Photo Alliance, a photographic organization that was started after the Katrina disaster and has blossomed into a wonderful organization supporting the photographic arts. NOPA also sponsorsPhotoNola, the December celebration of photography in New Orleans. It is a fabulous event in an amazing city.

The Hurricane Story is available thru the Chin Music Press. More of Jennifer's work can be seen HERE.

back from New Orleans

Liminality (from the Latin word līmen, meaning "a threshold") is a psychological, neurological, or metaphysical subjective state, conscious or unconscious, of being on the "threshold" of or between two different existential planes (from Wikipedia). That is what it is like to be in New Orleans. There is just something about that city that is like no other. I felt like Alice in Wonderland falling down the rabbit hole into another world of reality. For me it is a city unparalleled in its music, food, art and soul.

(all photos taken with my iphone)

Treme Creole Gumbo Festival featuring the actors from the HBO Treme show

Friday night on Frenchmen Street at Snug Harbor with Ellis Marsalis

3-6pm half price oysters everyday at Luke

John Boutte at d.b.a., the composer of the Treme theme song...he doesn't sing the song, he is the song!

The Contemporary Arts Center had some wonderful work...including

Kyle Bravo, 2011 Self Portrait, "Reaching"

Club S & S (Stephen Paul Day & Sibylle Peretti), suicide notes, 2011; Mixed Media on napkins

PhotoNola had many offerings for the weekend including a photogravure demonstration at Josephine Sacabo's studio and a Tintype exhibit at HomeSpace Gallery, which included a wet plate demonstration.
Josephine Sacabo giving photogravure demonstration

S. Gayle Stevens speaking about her work at HomeSpace Gallery

Bruce Schultz giving a wet plate demonstration

and I happily went home with a tintype portrait

New Orleans, PhotoNOLA and Prospect.2

So many changes occured post Katrina, one of which was the formation of The New Orleans Photo Alliance. It has grown in leaps and bounds since 2006, offering many wonderful opportunities for photographers including juried exhibitions, workshops and educational programs. They also offer an annual photography festival, PhotoNOLA. It is a great organization to belong to, run by a passionate group of artists.

I attended PhotoNola a couple of years back and am returning for the Benefit Party and Print Auction, having donated Burn No 45 to the event. Many people are involved to create this fabulous weekend which includes portfolio reviews, workshops, lectures, and alternative process demonstrations, a true labor of love. Its location can't be beat and any excuse to return to New Orleans is good enough for me! I will be basking in the music, the food and the art...and oh, did I mention Prospect 2?

Dan Cameron Introduces Prospect New Orleans from Newgray on Vimeo.

Candy Chang's Before I Die Project in New Orleans

Before I Die is the amazing brainchild of New Orleans artist Candy Chang. She is using blackboards that line the outside of an abandoned home in New Orleans to encourage people to think about their hopes and dreams. It is a symbol of rebirth and a testament to New Orlean's resilience and creativity.

In Chang's words...

"With support from old and new friends, I turned the side of an abandoned house in my neighborhood into a giant chalkboard to invite my neighbors to share what is important to them. Before I Die transforms neglected spaces into constructive ones where we can learn the hopes and aspirations of the people around us. This process (including obtaining official approval from many entities) has been a great lesson--more on that later. If you're in New Orleans, stop by the corner of Marigny and Burgundy (900 Marigny Street) to add your thoughts to the wall and discover what matters most to your neighbors. I believe the design of our public spaces can better reflect what's important to us as residents and as human beings. The responses and stories from passersby while we were installing it have already hit me hard in the heart."

The project has had such a positive response that Chang decided to continue the project online where you can add your dreams. Here are a few that have just been added....

Before I die I want to let people realize the value of equality.
Before I die I want to find true happiness. And channel that to the world..
Before I die I want to Save someone I love's live or die trying.
-- GUS
Before I die I want to feel accomplished.
Before I die I want to have a world tour with my parents.
Before I die I want to forgive.
Before I die I want to finally live on my own..
Before I die I want to be a great mother.
Before I die I want to see and eat everything in the world!.
Before I die I want to truly be happy..

You can read more about it on her website HERE. What an inspirational project. I can't wait to visit the site on my next trip to New Orleans.

The Darkroom Gallery Exhibit in New Orleans

I so wish I were going to the opening...however, at $500 a pop for airlines tickets I decided to pass. I am sure it will be great fun. I really miss the place!

I came across Joli Livaudais Grisham's work because I am in the show with her . I checked out her website and was impressed by her artist statement...thought I would share it.

Project Statement: Meditations

"I once read that everything in the universe is made from the same kinds of particles, and the only difference between material and spirit is how swiftly those basic components are vibrating. Quantum physicists have demonstrated that particles near each other synchronize, and so paired will move as one even when separated. Isolation and stillness are an illusion. All things are intrinsically linked together in ways mysterious and strange, and seeming differences are really just variations on a theme.

© Joli Livaudais Grisham

When I was young, my mother taught me that God is love and that violence and destruction are constructs of man. Yet when I look around me at the marvelously balanced creation of the universe, I see a system founded in the deaths of the weak and unfortunate. The wheel of creation, maintenance and destruction grinds endlessly, a ravening machine, terrifyingly pure in its lack of concern or gentleness. Yet, it is also beautiful, orderly, a profoundly synchronized web of vibrating particles. Meditations are my conceptual explorations on the mysteries of the machine--the deeper spiritual truth that connects us on the wheel of life and unifies reality.

Byzantine painters used a set of visual symbols to reveal the divine in the mundane. One of the most important of these was the use of gold. Gold gave the work a feeling of material preciousness, while also creating a source of otherworldly luminosity and warmth. They also used ultramarine blue, a rare and expensive pigment, to signify spiritual purity. I print my images in tones of blue and suspend them over 23K gold leaf using resin. By applying these symbolic spiritual elements to a photograph, a process intrinsically rooted in reality, both are interpreted in a new way. The work is experienced as concept and as a physical object, mirroring the duality of spirit and earth."


Collect.give is the brilliant creation of Kevin J. Miyazaki, a Milwaukee-based editorial and fine art photographer. I found out about the project after reading a very compelling article in May in the NYT by Nicholas Kristof, Celebrate : Save the Mother. I began thinking about how I could use my photography to raise awareness for women around the world. I reached out to Aline Smithson, an amazing photographer and networker, to see if she would be interested. She directed me to Collect.give. A program was already in place. I realized I did not need to reinvent the wheel and was happily invited to be one of the contributors.

As of September 1st, the Wedding Portrait will be for sale in a very limited edition of 25, 7" x 10.5" archival pigment prints for $40.00 a print. A steal!!!! AND what is really great is all the $ will be donated to The Lower Ninth Ward Village, an amazing organization run by amazing people. This image is included in my book, Look and Leave : Photographs and Stories from New Orleans's Lower Ninth Ward.

I do hope you will consider purchasing a print. They are all ready to be shipped. Just go onto the Collect.give site to order. It is that easy!

Dave Anderson ~ One Block : A New Orleans Neighborhood Rebuilds

Dave Anderson has a newly released book from Aperture, One Block : A New Orleans Neighborhood Rebuilds.

I saw some of the work last December when I attended PhotoNOLA. The images were full of grace. It is thrilling to see that the book is now released along with an accompanying exhibition at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art AND an actual block party on Saturday, August 28, 4:00–7:00 pm, on the 500 block of Flood and Caffin Streets (on the actual block where the photographs were made). There will be musical performances by Rebirth Brass Band and Little Freddie King plus food from a surprise New Orleans chef. If you are in the area, you won't want to miss this party!

I find myself marveling at the simplicity, elegance, dignity and understated compassion contained in each of these images. These residents were in the best of hands when they agreed to be photographed by Dave. Aperture has accompanying videos of the subjects on their site, well worth a visit.

Monthly Photography Magazine Interview ~ South Korea

The August issue of a Korean photography magazine called "Monthly Photography" in which I was interviewed just came in the mail. There is a 12 page spread, spanning many years of my photography career. I don't speak or read Korean but have the English translation which I thought I would share.

MT ~ When and how did you first start your career as a photographer? (What motivated you to become a photographer? On your website, you stated that you have practiced clinical social work for 35 years.)

JFA ~ I have been a part time practicing clinical social worker for over 35 years. When my youngest child began grammar school and some time freed up, I began taking art classes and decided to try photography as I had just purchased a new camera in preparation for a trip to South East Asia. At the start of the class I did not really understand the nuances or poetic potential of photography. I had an exceptional teacher, Richard Olderman, who taught me to see with my heart. I learned over time that the camera was just another tool for expressing oneself.

MT ~ Where and why did you shoot the ‘Burn’ series? How long did it take you to finish the series? Looking at the series works, you must’ve been working while the prairie was still burning, and that seems very dangerous. What was the most difficult thing while working on this series? What would you say the subject of this series is? What motivated you to choose this subject for your work?

JFA ~ The seeds of inspiration for The Burn series was years in the making. I have always been attracted to the mysterious qualities of smoke and fire. I remember passing an open field of burning fire while traveling in Mexico. I had wanted to photograph then but the circumstances at the time did not allow it.

In the fall of 2008 I was attending an artist residency at Ragdale in Lake Forest, Illinois. Ragdale is situated on acres of beautiful prairie land. While I was there the restoration ecologists were doing a small controlled burn. Controlled burns are crucial to the restoration of natural habitats. The burning helps reduce non-native vegetation that can crowd out native plants, allowing sunlight to reach very young native plant seedlings. I began talking to the ecologists and inquired about photographing with them. They said that would be fine but I would need to wait until the spring, as the controlled burns were finished for the season.

The following spring, in early April, I called them. As fate would have it the restoration ecologists were heading out to do their first burn that very day. I was elated....and was also the first day (actual hour) of my sister's first chemotherapy treatment. She had been recently diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The Burn was photographed with my sister in my heart and in my mind. There are many parallels between the prairie burn and the chemotherapy. The burning of the brush or application of the chemotherapy clears the dead underbrush/cancer cells, making way for new healthy growth.

This series has been physically and emotionally taxing for me to produce. After 3-4 hours of photographing in the smoke and fire, I am greatly fatigued and drained. I wear special clothing because the smoke saturates everything. It often takes months for my camera equipment to be smoke free. While I am photographing, I always dedicate the work to my sister. It has been a blessing to have this project to focus on while my sister is simultaneously going through her chemotherapy.

MT ~ Reading your statement about ‘Burning’ on your website, "While accompanying restoration ecologists on prescribed prairie burns, _I am drawn to the ephemeral quality of a single moment _when life and death do not seem opposed to each other, _but are parts of a single process to be accepted as a whole" you seemed to express part of your own grasp about ‘life’ through this series. Would you tell us more about what you have realized about life while you’ve been working on this series?

JFA ~ I have spent much of my photography career wondering about the larger questions of did we all come into being, how do we leave this world and what is the meaning of life. I have used the camera as a tool to try to address these issues. By drawing on my life experiences that includes raising a family, extensive travel and having a clinical social work practice, I am able to come to a better understanding of the life/death question. You can't have one without the other, just like you need to the dark to understand the light. If there were no darkness, light would not exist.

Death is one of the great mysteries that face us all. I do not think one can really live fully without embracing death and dying. By observing the natural world I am able to see the cycle of life more clearly and am attracted to images that reference both life and death in one image.

MT ~ Tell us how you first began working on ‘Katrina’ series. What motivated you to go to Katrina? Looking at the gruesome scenes of Katrina, I would say I could sense part of your feeling while shooting these scenes. Tell us more how you felt while working on this series.

JFA~ Like all who watched the tragedy of human suffering unfold for days on end following Hurricane Katrina, I felt a profound sense of helplessness. This feeling led me to volunteer my skills as a clinical social worker. I had no idea how my expertise would be used. All I knew is that I would be on a team of sixteen mental health professionals from across the nation.

I was assigned to a program called “Look and Leave” organized by the City of New Orleans. The program was designed to provide the evacuated residents of the Lower Ninth Ward, then scattered over forty-eight states, with an opportunity to return and view their homes for the first time since they fled the storm.

By the end of my first day serving on the “Look and Leave” program and viewing the remains of the devastated community, I felt physically ill. Following three days and seven bus trips, I had an unrelenting “Katrina cough” along with a pounding headache. The physical and emotional fatigue was so pervasive that I had to leave the site. This was a turning point for me. Within an hour of returning to the hotel room, something within me shifted and I knew I needed to do more . . . . I decided to photograph what I was seeing, with the hope of helping in a more concrete way by giving others visual access to my experiences.

MT~ Did you intend to deliver any message to the audiences through your work of Katrina? If yes, what was it?

JFA ~ On the last night of my first trip to New Orleans, there was discussion with members of the relief team about how we might be ambassadors for the people we served by keeping their stories alive and their needs in focus.

Our natural instinct is to try to generalize any experience. To do so about my post-Katrina experience would be unfair to us all. During the time I spent in the Lower Ninth Ward, I encountered feelings of frustration, anger, fear, helplessness, shock, despair, hope, optimism and love, both my own and those of the residents. The best and worst of humankind were revealed, as it often is in such extreme situations. I saw people looking to profit from the misfortunes of others and people who showed boundless generosity toward complete strangers.

I was privileged to be with families at an intimate and critical time, a time when daily concerns receded and what was most vital rose to the top. I learned so much from the people I worked with. Their strong sense of faith sustained many. But, most importantly I learned that what is essential in life is not where we live, where we work, what we own, or how much money we make, but how well we love and treat one another.

MT ~ Since you have worked as a social worker for more than 35 years, you must’ve engaged a lot with people and I think most of your work subjects are reflecting stories related people, human beings. However, it is interesting that in most of your works, figures are excluded but still show the trace of people’s lives. What do you think? What did you intend from not showing figures on your works?

JFA ~ Much of my early work from Mexico included street photography. There was a time when I was comfortable with shooting people whom I did not know. Then I became more self conscious about it. I guess you might say I became more shy. I am no longer comfortable taking people's photographs without their permission. In order to do a really in depth project with people, you need to spend a lot of time with them. The commitment is intense. I did do that with a woman who was undergoing breast cancer. In the end she felt the photographs were too revealing and did not want them exhibited. The photographs are really beautiful but will probably never be seen. Maybe that has something to do with it...It really takes a toll on me to dive deep into other peoples lives.

MT ~ Your first and only book ‘Look and Leave’ has achieved a lot of attention from American media. What kinds of works are included in this book? Please introduce about your book to our readers in Korea.

JFA ~ The photographs in this book were taken at time when I was in deep mourning for the residents of the Lower Ninth Ward and for our nation. I felt like a walking container for all the grief and sorrow that I absorbed while trying to support the residents as they returned to their homes. It is through this “lens” that the images were made. One question that has often been asked of me is, “Why are there no people in the photographs?” As a social worker, I felt it would be unethical to intrude on the personal lives of the families as they were trying to cope with their losses. When I did decide to photograph, it was with the conscious decision to do it before or after I reported to the “Look and Leave” site, thus avoiding any ambiguity between my professional roles as a clinical social worker and a photographer. I discovered that the potency of these photographs is due, in part, to the merging of the two professions at the moment the shutter was released.

MT ~ Mourning Light, Chiapas, and the first part of Mexico series look like you photographed out of framed photographs. Please explain about work process of these series and the reason why you have chose this manner of shooting photographs. What kind of effect did you seek?

JFA ~ I have always been interested in mixed media as a means of creating more luminosity, mystery and surface in the photograph. I applied beeswax on the surface of the Mourning Light photographs as a way of creating this effect.

The Chiapas series was created as a response to having visited the San Juan Chamula Church, just outside of San Cristobal, Mexico. I was not allowed to photograph inside the church but made images of the exterior and the surrounding areas. When I came home and began editing the work, I realized that I could scan objects that I had collected from various trips to Mexico and combine them with the images. This is what I did with this body of work. It all just came together with little thought. One of those wonderful moments that rarely happens! Adding the bees wax was another way of enhancing the mystery and giving the work more depth.

In my newest work from Mexico I am transferring xerox color copies onto a gold leaf prepared wooden panel and then pouring resin over the image. It becomes much less photographic and more about texture and light. The luminosity of the work is extraordinary and by doing the transfer, I loose some of the detail of the image. The viewer is forced to fill in the missing pieces or, even better, spend more time in wonder.

MT ~ ‘Visitation’ series look different from your other work series. This series seem the only one that you had set the stage and directed the scene with a garment while other series are not. What are you trying to talk through ‘Visitation’ series?

JFA ~ This work was inspired by a dream and a painting that referenced flying. This work addresses the non material, spiritual world; what we don't know but what could be.

I have always loved fabric and was a quilter for years before I became a photographer. I live on the shores of Lake Michigan and would always wait for the perfect weather conditions to shoot this work. The wind, the light and the cloud cover needed to be just right for it to work. For 2 years I would carry a 15" x 15" piece of fabric with me. Many, many images were taken but only a few worked artistically.

MT ~ I would say many of your works are close to documentary or topographic works except ‘Visitation’ (it is close to conceptual work to me). How would you categorize your works?

JFA ~ I think it is difficult to categorize my work as I am constantly changing and evolving. My photographic images reflect my curiosity about life and there is a freedom I feel with the photography in that there is no one I need to please, but myself.
It has always been "off limits" to others in that I shy away from commissions or commercial work. I am not interested in "branding" or having a specific style. I am only interested in giving expression to my inner voice.

MT ~ What are the most important sources for you to get inspirations for your works?

JFA ~ I think the combination of my life experiences and my observations on the bigger questions of life have been the driving force behind much of what I photograph. There is a collective unconscious that we all tap into. It doesn't really matter what country you live in, what race you are or what language you speak. We are all made from the same cloth and want similar things from our life. We are all born and we all die and in between we hopefully find love and meaningful work. I love the quote from Joseph Campbell..."The privilege of a lifetime is becoming more of who you are." I am still working on this.

MT ~ Tell us more about your technical know-how. What kind of camera do you use? Are these all film works or digital? Do you print by yourself?

JFA ~ I started the with 35 mm camera then moved to a hasselblad medium format camera for years. I had a darkroom in the basement of my house and I would do all my own printing. Then came Katrina. I had not planned on doing any serious shooting when I went there and only brought my Canon Rebel XT. Prior to that I had never worked digitally. I now use a Canon 5D and do all my own printing on the Epson 4800. I have also used the holga camera, which I adore.

MT ~ You are working in both black and white and color. How do you determine to work either color or B&W on each subject? What kind of effect do you purpose by choosing one?

JFA ~ I had only worked with b/w film up until Katrina when I shifted to color. I really like both and I think the project dictates the direction I go in. I just want to create the strongest image possible.

MT ~ What are you currently working? Have you started any new work series? What’s your plan?

JFA ~ I have been deeply disturbed by the oil spill that just happened in the Gulf of Mexico. I have been reading about the devastation to so many life forms. I am working on a conceptual body of work that will address the vulnerability to human life that is caused by risky drilling practices and speak to the broader issues of protecting our earth. There has been so much finger pointing but really, we are all responsible and we all need to find a solution not just to this spill but to all environmentally compromising practices worldwide. Probably by the time this article goes to print, the work will be completed.

I will also continue working on The Burn, which is an ongoing project.

MT~ What’s your goal being as a photographer?

JFA ~ Interesting question. I really don't have any goals as a photographer per say. I am interested in making the world a better place and have found the camera to be a good tool for that. I will continue to address social and spiritual concerns as they arise. I am also really enjoying mentoring other photographers. I have a monthly critique group in which I am able to help others realize their own vision. It is really fulfilling to be part of other people's growth and development.

The X-Codes

Thanks to a fellow photographer, Cynthia Bittenfield, I learned about a very exciting project spearheaded by Dorthy Moye of Decatur Georgia. It has a tie in to Passover....

Here is the abstract:

"Dorothy Moye explores the prevalence and significance of the X-code, a symbol used by search-and-rescue teams in 2005 to mark searched property in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans. She considers the purposes of these codes and how returning New Orleanians felt about these symbols, as well as the stories these markings continue to tell. Moye is currently organizing a Katrina X-codes exhibition in collaboration with professional and amateur photographers under the fiscal sponsorship of the Southern Documentary Fund."

"In retrospect there was something almost biblical about those markings on all the front doors around here," writes New Orleans Times Picayune columnist Chris Rose, "posting notice of who was spared and who was not." Traditions of coding dwellings date back to descriptions in Exodus 12 (the Passover story), when markings appeared for protection instead of after-the-fact reporting. Throughout history, markings have indicated death, quarantine, ghettoization, and destruction, as well as protection. ---from project description

Fat Tuesday and Louisiana

Sacred Heart ©1997
taken after visit to slaughter house

Today is Fat Tuesday and I am not in New Orleans or Breau Bridge.

In thinking about all the celebrations tonight, I find myself reminising about when I met Debbie Flemming Caffery in Louisiana for one of her workshops. It was the first time in my "creative" life that I left home and concentrated only on my art for a full week. It was transformative. There is something very powerful about being able to shed all responsibilites and flow with the muses. I highly recommend it.

Smoking Cotton Gin, a precurser to The Burn series

I will be marking the day with a Sazerac cocktail accompanied with great cajun and zydeco music.

If you missed my
"LOOK AND LEAVE : New Orleans in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina" exhibt, it just reopened at the Fourth Presbyterian Church. It is wonderful to have it in a religious setting, especially when the music wafts into the gallery space! The church is located on Michigan Avenue between Chestnut and Delaware, across the street from the John Hancock building. The gallery hours are Wednesday to Saturday 11:00 – 4:00, Sundays 8:00am – 6:00pm, closed Monday and Tuesday.

Put on your dancing shoes! We are going to have a Mardi Gras Celebration Benefit for the New Orleans Common Ground Health Clinic on Saturday, February 17th. Great food and music. Donations of $75.00 are fully tax deductible. Space is limited. If you are interested, please email me for more information at :