Four Days at PhotoNola 2012

Photographs ©Bryan Formhals – International House Hotel, 2012

I’d always wanted to visit New Orleans. Apparently my parents went there on their honeymoon which I can’t really fathom, but that piece of personal history aside, I’ve always been interested in the city because of its rich history and status as one of the most unique cities in the United States. It just seemed like my kind of city.

So when the fine folks from the New Orleans Photo Alliance invited me to review portfolios at this year’s PhotoNola, I was excited and of course accepted. The portfolio review circuit is relatively new to me so I wasn’t sure what to expect. There was some anxiety but it wasn’t too bad because talking to photographers about their work is one of the most enjoyable consequences of publishing LPV.

Portfolio reviews can be a divisive topic. What I’ve learned from talking to photographers the last few years is that it’s important to do your homework and determine if a review is right for you, depending on where you are with your work. For the most part you’re going to want to stick with the the top tier events like PhotoNola, Review Santa Fe, PhotoLucida and a few others. I think this common sense by now but I’ll repeat it anyway.

As I arrived on Thursday afternoon, I realized that I’d have a few hours to roam around before the Gala in the evening. I was excited to make photographs. I hadn’t been in an unfamiliar city for awhile, so I was anxious to see how I’d react photographically. I didn’t have an agenda. I just figured I’d do what I always do and walk around snapping away. I don’t know if it was the sound of jazz in the air or the beautiful light but I was in groove right away. And by groove, I mean I was in a good picture taking mood. That doesn’t always equate to good photographs as we all know, but sometimes that doesn’t matter. Just being out in the world, engaging with your camera often times reward enough, at least for a photographer like me.

Later that night was the PhotoGALA Benefit Party and Auction. After a couple of beers I started to fade but it was interesting to see the type of work that people bid on.

I woke up early on Friday after a quality night of hotel sleeping. I had a choice. I could attend a couple of talks, or I could roam around again. It wasn’t a tough decision. The weather was perfect and the light was beautiful once again. I had to go out and make more photographs. Plus, my one culinary desire was a muffaletta sandwich, so I heeded several recommendations and headed to Central Grocery. I was not disappointed.

There was a short orientation for the reviewers. After that, I was back roaming around the French Quarter. I was told to avoid Bourbon St. but had to check it out anyway. It was Friday night. I had a few beers and took in the craziness but realized that I was basically in the Times Square of New Orleans.

Saturday was the first day of reviews. I knew in advance who was sitting with me but I decided against doing too much research. I wanted to look at the work with fresh eyes and not be influenced by any sort of web presentation. In retrospect, that might not have been the best idea. I sat across the table from at least two rather accomplished photographers whose work I wasn’t familiar with. It was somewhat embarrassing, but I got over it. There’s no way anybody can keep track of all the interesting work out there. That’s sort of the deal these days.

When I’m doing reviews there’s a moment I always await. It’s when you say something to the photographer and you see their eyes light up. You trigger something in their brain and you can instantly see that creative spark ignite. They light up. They feel inspired. They feel confident. Maybe that’s not the purpose of reviews, I don’t know. I tend not to be overly harsh. There’s no point. If I’m not into the work, I still try to be helpful and offer some ideas. But I’m always honest about whether or not it’d be something I’m interested in publishing.

All the photographers that sat with me were very intelligent and comfortable discussing their work. I was impressed with level of preparation, especially the prints, many of which were fantastic. I looked at some very good work, some of which you’ll likely see in upcoming issues. I’m not going to show my cards too much in this post. I’d like to keep an element of surprise. Plus, I don’t want David Bram poaching any photographers before I get a chance to publish their work! Just kidding. It was nice to run into David and Jennifer Schwartz. They had an adventure. You can read about it on Jennifer’s blog.

During the day I started chatting with Jason Landry of Panopticon Gallery and Adam Justice of the Polk Museum of Art. We decided to head out and grab a bite to eat before the evening’s main event at A Gallery. As we walked down Bourbon St after our meal I made it my mission to drink a Hurricane, which is basically a fucking big gulp with booze. How could I pass that up? We ended up running into a New Orleans style wedding which was surreal and completely awesome. This was New Orleans apparently. Bumming around, drinking Hurricane’s and getting lost in the festivities. I can’t say I was complaining.

Photo by Jason Landry – Me & my fucking Hurricane, Bourbon St., 2012

The moment I walked into A Gallery I was mesmerized. I can’t articulate it in words. This place is a treasure, maybe one of the seven wonders of the photography world. It’s that awesome. There were prints from Cartier Bresson, Diane Arbus, Helmut Newton, Keith Carter, and shit fuck, I can’t even remember all of them. A Gallery has been owned by Joshua Mann Pailet for over 35 years.

Landry had briefed me earlier in the night about him but it wasn’t until I was in the gallery that I knew what he was talking about. This guy Pailet. Holy smokes. His work was prominently displayed in the upstairs of the gallery and I loved it. I hate the term but I would call him a street photographer and the two books I looked at were great. This guy is a legend, and here I am sucking down a big gulp (hurricane) as I shake his hand. I’ll never forget it.

The entire night was a blast. Jonathan Blaustein and I had an opportunity to chat after a year of nothing more than Twitter conversations. I met Brandon Thibodeaux and Rush Jagoe in person. It was one of those evenings that will be etched in my brain for years to come.

Jennifer SchwartzJonathan Blaustein

Mary Virginia Swanson & Joshua Mann Paliat

Sunday was the last day and I was starting to feel it, but I kept going. Again, all the photographers that I reviewed had something to offer, it was just a matter of them finding the right outlet’s and audience for their work. To be honest, I’m even sure how anyone, including myself, can find the right audience. Maybe it doesn’t really exist and we just have to go with out hunches. I have a tremendous amount of respect for photographers that are willing to put themselves out there and share their work in such an intense setting.

At the wrap up dinner I had a good conversation with Aline Smithson of the wonderful Lenscratch. She made a big impression on me. Through chatting it was reinforced in me that these reviews are really about networking and meeting like minded people. She wrote an excellent post a few weeks ago that says it much better than I’ll ever be able to. Be sure to read it. She’s one of the most generous, and thoughtful people I’ve encountered in photoland.

We ended the marvelous weekend walking through the French Quarter and with a few drinks at the hotel bar. If you ever run into Diana Millar of Luz Gallery, be sure to give her a high five.

I wrote on Facebook that it was a transformational weekend for LPV. I was humbled to meet so many photographers that appreciate LPV. It’s hard to know whose actually paying attention to what you’re doing, so when you meet people face to face and can tell that they truly value what you do, man, there’s just no better feeling and no better inspiration to keep going, to do more, to push things, to go go go go go until you can’t any longer.

Last and certainly not least, I need to send a gigantic thank you to Jennifer Shaw, Millie Fuller, Seth Boonchai and the entire New Orleans Photo Alliance. I’ll be going back to PhotoNola in the future, one way or another. It’s a unique event and what these folks are doing down in the great city of New Orleans is truly something special. I highly recommend it for anyone who loves photography.

P.S. – I still owe some of you emails! I’m sorry. I promise I’ll get around to it.


LPV Magazine: LPV 5

Featuring work from Amani Willett, John MaClean, Nicholas Calcott, Alexi Hobbs & Tabitha Soren. Including an introduction and essay by Bryan Formhals

Find out more on MagCloud

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  • Elizabeth Fleming

    I must tell you that yours is my favorite of the photoblogs out there, love reading your thoughts (not to mention the magazine). But I must admit I’m angry at you because this post has made me insanely jealous. Keep up the great work! Elizabeth