New Orleans In Photographs
Curator Frank Relle believes cultural exchange should reveal human similarities and engage appreciation of differences. Photography succeeds at cultural exchange through the sheer ease of sharing visual information without the need for common written language. New Orleans in Photographs builds on the strength of photography for this task, by acknowledging how people actually encounter cultural imagery in contemporary life: a bombardment of photographs from social media combined with composed images captured by professional documentarians.
The constant “feeds” on social media like Facebook and Instagram offer true-to-life, in-the-moment images of friends and family. New Orleans in Photographs aims to mimic the experience of scrolling through these feeds. An image of a father and son fishing is followed by a cemetery tomb, then a man drinking a beer in a lake, then cheerleaders at an American football game, then a New Orleans brass band. Which one do you “like”? The 1,000 endearing, informal images overwhelm museum-goers, allowing them to let their attention roam and return to the walls in the same way they might distractedly check social media while they are, in fact, viewing the show!
This barrage of images from the public family albums of social media stands in contrast to the 100 professional photographs - framed, labeled, captioned and printed four times larger. These thoughtfully composed, strong images anchor the show. They are often wider views, taken by professionals unrelated to the subjects, and therefore presumably unbiased. Professional photographers have the technical skills and educated backgrounds to create authoritative, definitive images of an event, a culture, a place, a family. They grant us access to places everyday citizens cannot or do not go: a flooded city, a prison, backstage at a concert. Their proficiency with light, color, exposure and focus provides multi-layered visual understanding.
New Orleans in Photographs reflects contemporary conversations in journalism and art, which question the value of refined craft and the informed professional lens. Given the authenticity of unpaid sources on social media, and the omnipresent, searchable nature of their intimate images, do we want or need the formal views of professionals to understand culture?
The dynamic interplay between the didactic professional views and the potential interactivity of the democratic social media views creates a compelling opportunity for Russian audiences.