One, One Thousand | Southern Photography


New Portraits in New Orleans
by Jonathan Traviesa

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Project statement:

Since the late 1990's, I have worked on an ongoing portrait project within the city of New Orleans, Louisiana. Using B&W square-formatted film, I photograph people in the outside areas around their homes. The subjects are usually captured full figure, and around them, filling in the rest of the frame, are fragments of the New Orleans residential landscape. A collection of 100 of these images was published in book form in October 2009 (Portraits: Photographs in New Orleans, 1998-2009).

These portraitslike any good environmental portraitattempt to marry a person and his/her immediate environment. There is nothing overtly New Orleanian about these images made from all over New Orleans. And yet, a subtle, more abstracted tone is present in the images because of the city. It emerges because of these people and where they live. I believe that who these people are is shaped in part by the spaces they know and live around. Conversely, a space, especially a localized or private one, comes alive when inhabited by someone who knows it intimately. It is this intimacy that makes these photographs special. The backyards, front porches, and side alleys of New Orleans serve as detailed backdrops for the lives and lifestyles of the folks in the series.

All of the images from that time period stem from my peers around the city. I have approached the subjects of my project by casual, natural means: friends, acquaintances, and occasional strangers that come into my life. Recently, however, I branched out of this scope and documented a specific set of new individuals.

The fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina has come and gone. Of course, great progress has been made, and there is still much more to be done. Despite the overall population loss of the city, what I find interesting is the newer influx of people. I am referring less to the people who came to New Orleans to work and help rebuild in the first year or two, but more to those types who did that and then stayed as residents.

Construction workers, teachers, young volunteers, and even a new set of underground bohemians have all been drawn to New Orleans for various reasons. Some of them have invested so much that it made sense for them to stay; all of them have directly helped reshape and restructure New Orleans. The ongoing labor of reconstructing damaged homes, retooling the dysfunctional educational infrastructure, as well as newly creating and propagating eclectic (often exotic) cultural fabrics, are the roots of what this city is nowand what it will be seen as throughout its long transition into post recovery.

Imperative to the continuation of this project is the inclusion of the Latino quotient. The story of New Orleans rebuilding itself has rested so much on Latino immigrantsoften working at exploitative labor rates. As evidenced by the lack of media attention, it is essential to represent them in this larger story. My aim is to bring this community of immigrants to light with my portrait photography: in a style both honest and dignified.

Documenting all of these folks is also important for the continuation of my project. After the release of my book and two concurrent exhibits, my project had to either end, lie dormant, or change in some significant way. I feel that by shifting my focus away from immediate peers toward the newer residents that are actively, positively changing the city, the project can resume with a new vitality matching that of the progress of the city itself.


Bio and contact:

Jonathan Traviesa was born on March 25, 1976, in San Francisco, CA. He is a photographer and artist living in New Orleans since the late 1990s. After courses at New Orleans Academy of Fine Art (NOAFA) and a degree from the University of New Orleans in 2001, he has had numerous solo and group exhibitions in New Orleans, Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York. In 2005, the Times Picayune voted his Katrina photo-sign installation the best art show of the year. He has been teaching Photoshop at NOAFA since 2005. Traviesa is a founding member of The Front gallery and released his first book, Portraits, with a concurrent exhibition at The Front during October and November of 2009. As part of PhotoNOLA, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art will exhibit a selection of his portraits from the book. He received the inaugural Michael P. Smith Documentary Photography Award from the New Orleans Photo Alliance to continue his portrait work with a focus on newer residents to the city. His work is collected privately around the United States and publicly in New Orleans by the Ogden and the New Orleans Museum of Art.


Jonathan is a New Orleans, LA, based photographer.
You can contact him by e-mail: