I am very excited to announce that the My Louisiana Muse project is back in swing! I have to be honest with you, I have missed the feeling of being in the ebb and flow of this wonderful life that is My Louisiana Muse. I call it life because it is! My Louisiana Muse becomes my driving force, it helps ignite my creative side and it feeds my intense curiosity of Louisiana and the art she fosters. I have already started talking with a few artists I hold a very high respect and admiration for, artists that truly feel and know deeply what it means to be a Louisiana artist.
Do yourself a favor and click those links above...see and feel what these folks are about. I can tell you I am fired up to talk with them, learn from them, and be in land that inspires them.
For this second phase in the My Louisiana Muse journey I will continue to photograph each artists with my trust Cambo 4x5 camera and make audio and video journals. I will also print a one of a kind Bromoil print framed in hand selected Pecky Sinker Cypress. In addition to this installation I will make a portrait of the land and make a companion land portraitto sit alongside each artist. If the land is our first teacher then we must continue to gaze upon her lessons in an art form fashioned from inspiration.
I am honored to have the My Louisiana Muse project as a featured photography project for The States Project from www.lenscratch.com. This is a wonderful photography blog that has shown some of my favorite current working photographers and this project to feature select photographers in each state is by far it's finest collection of creatives. I have enjoyed looking at each state's story seen through the eyes of their photographers. I am happy to be one of Louisiana's.
Thank you to Vanessa Brown for including me - such a wonderful moment - You can read and see about how Louisiana is a driving force in what I do for my own validation in life, as well as many others.
I am very happy to announce I have found a suitable wood source and framer for the My Louisiana Muse project! I have been going to Gueydan Lumber out on Airline Highway to hand select the pecky sinker cypress to be used for my frames. Gueydan Lumber is a family owned and operated lumber mill and you can tell they truly care about their customers no matter how small. I went there two weeks ago to select only ONE PIECE to test the wood for framing and Stevie Gueydan spent :30 with me teaching me about the wood, bringing the stack down, and inspecting it with me. You can't get that kind of customer support online!
Wilson Revelle at M6 Creations routed the wood, cut, and stained the wood with a nice Teak Oil. He then brought it over to his wife, Darla Revelle of Revelle's Framing by Design, to do the assembly and framing. I am so happy that I found this amazing duo to help me realize my dream and I have since framed 8 more pieces! Here is the finished piece of Big Chief Juan Pardo of the Golden Comanche Mardi Gras Indians bought by my friend Mikal.
Sinker cypress has a "pecky" appearance which is caused by a fungus that lives in the tree when it is alive. This is cypress wood that in certain parts of the log, is in the early stages of decomposition from either a fungus or environmental conditions. "Pecky" cypress is harder to find due to the fact that you don't know until you cut into it! All of the My Louisiana Muse one of a kind Bromoils will now be framed with this rare Louisiana wood!
Notice the "pecky" holes in the wood! This wood is "one of a kind" just like my Bromoils...
It was a bittersweet moment, taking down the project that stood so close to me since October 2014. It is funny how fast one year can go by and how so many important and yet trivial life experiences are thrown at you side by side. It seems alot to handle - but I never felt that My Louisiana Muse ever was out of control or hard to handle at any times. Traveling over 1400 miles, to Monroe twice (!), managing the relearning of the darkroom and bromoil process by books and Youtube, and playing the press release shuffle...i felt that I was always in control. I was in control because this project involved 14 talented artists and so many people behind the scenes that I was both indebted to, and who had my back. I am so grateful to have been afforded this experience.
So as the show came down this week, I am very excited at what the near future holds. Never one to count the chickens, stay tuned here until we can celebrate another hatch.
I am forever humble and most grateful for the support of the community in attending the My Louisiana Muse soft opening and grand opening on September 11th and 12th. In addition to attending the openings I am thankful for those of you that spread the word through your social media channels and through Old School Word of Mouth! At one point in the project I realized that it was bigger than I was and that I was heeding the call of an invisible source of inspiration. I knew that whatever the turn out on both nights that that was the way it was supposed to be. The openings for the exhibit reiterated another fact that this project was meant to bring people together, and it did.
Guests at the Soft Opening of My Louisiana Muse - September 11th, 2015
The soft opening was a magical night with four artists: Maritze Mercado-Narcisse, Tommy Michot, Nick Slie, and Michel Varisco in attendance for the Artist QnA. We also had Darrell Bourque read some of his poetry on opening night, with a special guest poetry reading by my father. I will have a video uploaded here very soon of my talk as well as Darrel Bourque and my father’s readings.
My expectations were reasonable. The work was done, the word was out, and the final products were still hanging from the wall. Before any new eyes passed over a single print, I was content and proud. I had learned so much about myself during this process and the journey had overshadowed any anticipation or anxiety on opening night. As they say, it was all gravy from here on out...
There was so much wonderful press for My Louisiana Muse I just have to share it here. So many great words were said and written about this project that I know must continue on. Here's to keeping the dialogue going.
Now that the show has been printed it was time to hit the road and flap my gums a bit to talk about My Louisiana Muse and why it is so important that people get out and see the show. I feel it is important that people see this work with their eyes to fully grasp the beauty of the Bromoil process but, more importantly, I want the COMMUNITY in one place CONNECTING with LOUISIANA ARTISTS. I put those words in caps because I think it is important. I wasn't shouting my words, just emphasizing how much I want the public to be introduced to new ways of thinking and seeing the world.
I am so honored and grateful for the people who have made this show possible and there are too many to talk about in these Press Junkets that I will do it here. Know that I couldn't have done ANY of this in the way it was supposed to be done without you all. I am humbled and grateful for your support and honesty through this yearlong process.
My wife Helen Evans Smith for her mirror to my world and constant support to help make this show the best thing i have ever done - a true expression of love. Don Marshall and Scott Aiges at the Jazz and Heritage Foundation for the Gallery space and assistance. Scott Edwards from the Scott Edwards Gallery for his experience and assistance in the darkroom and in the gallery. Scott Williams for his design savvy and David Armentor for the lens loaners for this project!
My deepest thanks to Sam Urrate for teaching me the Bromoil process in 2004 and continuing to be a source of inspiration and strength for me to do your thing and do it well no matter what. Big thanks go to master builder Josh Galland for his artistry and precision in making the cypress frames for the show - YOU are a gift.
Through this project a new friendship has been made with poet Darrell Bourque, and through this friendship a renewed interest in the hidden stories and deeper meanings of the cultural traditions of the people of Louisiana. Thank you also for bringing the amazing Goldman Thibodeaux to My Louisiana Muse. To all My Louisiana Muse artists, thank you for letting me into your sacred world of inspiration so that I may show your work and passion to a new audience. Here's to more creative collaborations and being present in life to know it!
Click some of these links to hear and see some Press on the show:
It feels real good to be in the drivers seat. After a month of getting my groove back with the Bromoil process, I feel I have finally gotten enough tools back in my shed to be able to help express what the print needs to say. Each bleached print of any particular artist presents its own problems and opportunities. My process is thus:
1. wet the print and get the paper saturated so that the gelatin can absorb ink (or in the case of the highlights, reject it)
Bleached "matrix" of Goldman Thibodeaux with his accordion
2. create my ink palate that I will pull my base ink from. This is usually a brown left alone or mixed and lightened with yellow, or thickened with red ink.
3. after laying my dark base down with a small soft paint roller, I will sometimes add a colored 2nd base down.
Dual Ink base for artist Maritza Mercado-Narcisse portrait
4. using the hard roller I then start to make multiple passes over the entire print. This maneuver spreads the inks to the accepting shadow areas and with faster and lighter passes, moves the ink OUT of the highlights.
5. from here the image is emerging and i can use Saran Wrap, a wet towel, or a dry towel to move around the ink and create some custom highlights.
I had so many breakthroughs today as I used different ink color bases and varies my roller technique. I realized i am creating my own type of application process as I have not seen any Bromoils like this online. I can't wait to teach this on September 19th! I hope people sign up for this...I would If i could but I am teaching it
My Louisiana Muse has shown me the deeper ways that we are all connected as human beings and even more so as artists. We are connected through how we interpret the "message of inspiration" coming to us as an outside sound, light, or experience. We can tie in this moment to our already formed ideas and thoughts and from here can decide wether to tell that story.
Inspiration is a subconscious deeper meaning (feeling) and knowledge of our existence and how we fit into our world on a micro scale. As I write this I realize that each artist I interviewed for this project didn't necessarily know each other, but when I told them about each other's projects their eyes lit up. Just think if we could have these great Louisiana photographers, painters, and poets all in one room meeting each other, talking, creating, inspiring. Having this show on September 12th at the Jazz and Heritage Gallery brings the project full circle. I am anticipating a sense of completion in getting my work done and on the walls, but to me that's just the drapes in a big mansion of people talking, creating, and inspiring.
These last few weeks have been very, very trying. There have been many high moments and just as many moments of doubt. As I have embarked on relearning a very difficult alternative photographic process I once thought I had in the bag, I have learned so much about myself, my craft, and the many amazing artists in My Louisiana Muse. I have struggled over my processes, my water bath temperatures (which are VERY hard to regulate due to the ground water temp in NOLA in August...), my fixer dilution (was it stock? was it mixed properly?), why is the lith ink not spreading right? I was driving myself into a tunnel of self doubt with fatigue as my co-pilot. But that's over.
I truly now believe the process is the journey and the
product is secondary to how we got there. I can’t tell you the last time I really
truly learned something about looking at a photograph I made. There it is, it's done. Move right along...
Don’t get me wrong! I love photography. I love my work as
well. I value that "moment in time" that TRUTH expressed in a way that no other has. But for, the
backstory is where it’s at. The final product is pretty but it's just a door:I
want to know where you are, what it smells like, what and who was there before
and how can I visit that ONE SPOT.
And so the journey that allows me to produce an image is
where the reward is its greatest for me. By the time the image is up on a wall,
in a book, or backlit to no end, the knowledge has been passed on and I have
moved on. In the case of working a Bromoil from each artist portrait from My
Louisiana Muse, I have emerged from my own alternative process boot camp to a
new awareness and perspective. I see myself differently. I see the artist
differently. I see Louisiana differently. As I take each swollen silver print
from its water bath I notice the frailty of it s gelatin and the excited promise of it accepting ink. With each brush stroke I am rebuilding the shadows like retelling an old story with a new angle. I am wiping away highlights like one would pepper a white lie on a fishing story. The moment is now ours. The moment is now yours. But how we got here, is always what we hold on to when we leave...
* my gratitude to Christoper James in his intro to "The Book of Alternative Photographic Processes 2nd ed." - you got it right man.
* sincere humble gratitude to the highest for Sam Urrate for bringing me back to solid ground I always knew I had.
I have to thank my friend, and past director of the Acadiana Center for the Arts Rose Courville, for suggesting to me a few great Louisiana artists for the My Louisiana Muse project. Rose told me about the photographer Jenny Ellerbe who was producing some great black and white documentary work of rural North Louisiana. After looking Jenny up and speaking with her about my project, we realized that her new photo essay documenting the Poverty Point World Heritage Site and the many Indian mounds of North Louisiana was the perfect addition to My Louisiana Muse.
I had heard of Poverty Point as a child growing up in Lafayette. I knew that it was some sort of Indian mound, and what I learned that day walking around the mounds really blew me away. The mounds were created by humans and little is known about them to this day. Where exactly did they come from? Why did they leave? But one fact is for certain: the mounds were built by American Indians and at one time were an ancient residential, trade and ceremonial center. Some nearby mounds even predate the Great Pyramids! We have this in Louisiana y'all!
At this point in my journey documenting these artists all around Louisiana, some major themes are beginning to drive my own inspiration and inquisitiveness. There exists a very strong and coherent connection to each artist I have spoken with where the land of Louisiana, in some way, is the powerful factor that inspires. With Adam Morales it was the driftwood and God showing him the way and with Melissa Bonin it was the swamp. Our surroundings and the land are our first teacher, as the poet Darrell Bourque would say, so we can assume we are continuing to learn from our 1st teacher as we explore the themes of our own calling and art.
Jenny Ellerbe has been documenting not only the Poverty Point mounds, but also the efforts of local preservationists to locate, preserve, and learn from the many existing mounds on private property in the area. Ellerbe’s latest gallery show – Shared Earth presents this ongoing struggle to save these gold mines of knowledge so that we can learn from civilizations past.
At the end of the sweltering summer day atop this large mound, I had a vision of these people as they lived and worked the land. The land gave them water to drink and food to eat, and using primitive tools they crafted individual rows of dirt for their living space. I began to see their connections to the land, and our connections to them. The My Louisiana Muse story began to come full circle at a blistering pace. It was time to head back to send all this film off … and photograph another day.
I took the back roads out of Pierre Part after leaving the home of Adam “The Driftwood Man” Morales, and entered Lafayette Parish via I-90 and directly
into my own past. I was to meet two members of the Michot family that have been
part of my family's life for some time. To make it more interesting, we were going to conduct the My Louisiana Muse interview and shoot across the street from the home where I was born. It was no coincidence we were
also meeting at the home of “Papa Lou” Michot, a place that has a very special significance to the Michot family.
Little did I know that from birth to 7 years old I was part
of a wonderful tight-knit community that existed at least 2 generations before
me. It took me decades to become interested in the neighborhood I lived in
from birth to 1982, mostly because I do not remember too much about it. I do remember
the Michot's, and the Comeaux’s, and the Ragsdale's, family names and faces, but foggy recollections at best. In
the late 90s I forged a friendship with a fellow musician, artist, and traveler Louis Michot. We knew our families went way back but didn’t realize how far
until this day.
Louis Michot is currently the lead singer and fiddle player
for the revered and evolving Lafayette, LA Cajun band, Lost Bayou Ramblers. Way back when
I was taking my first stabs at band promotion photography I photographed the
band in 2003 for their album "Pilette Breakdown", and I have been photographing
them ever since. I will save you the
long story of how far our families go back almost 2 generations from business
dealings to bringing the kids over on Sundays…there are some great stories in
there. But what I want to focus on is the connections that were made on my
visiting with father and son musicians, bandmates, and storytellers Tommy
Michot and his son Louis.
The house and property has since been sold, but we were able
to sit on the back porch of the Michot home and talk about the many connections
and inspirations this family has been involved in for many generations. You can
say music found both Tommy and his son Louis and not the other way around. We all sat down on the porch surrounded by
Louis’ two kids and his wife, artist Ashlee Michot, as Tommy struck up a short
tune on the accordion to usher in our lush surroundings.
Photo by Ashlee Michot
Zack Smith, Tommy and Louis Michot on the back porch in Pilette, LA
Tommy Michot started playing accordion about 35 years ago
and Louis began the fiddle almost 17 years ago, but their paths to those
instruments came by the way of other instruments. Tommy started playing the
harmonica and Louis the piano. Music has always been a part of the Michot
family and has remained a strong connection of their family to their Louisiana
and Cajun French roots. The father and son are leaders of their own bands in
their own right, singing and playing the old and new message of their muse.
Music has been in their family for generations. Tommy’s father, Louis, played
the Hohner piano accordion (a la Clifton Chenier) and his father played the
piano.Although the elder Louis did not
play Cajun music, there was always music around for young Tommy and his
brothers Rick, David, Bobby and Mike. In the early 80s they started the group
Les Freres Michot and still play traditional Cajun music to this day. Tommy’s
son Louis began playing the guitar at an early age and even has played double
bass for his father’s band with his brother, Andre. (Yes, all this family band
intermingling does get confusing).
Louis and his brother Andre started the Lost Bayou Ramblers
in 1999 and have evolved their version of Cajun music into many different forms
using electric instruments and pounding drums but still singing in Cajun French. The musical journeys that this
father and son have had are too many to name here, so we will concentrate on
how their connectivity to Louisiana and their creative talents continue to
Louis started to realize he wanted to follow his Cajun roots
in a musical way during the first time he dropped out of college at 19. He
brought his grandfather's German fiddle with him on a journey to learn Cajun
French at Univerisité de Ste. Anne school in Nova Scotia, playing on the street for change
and sometimes made some real money. He learned a few songs and started to develop an
understanding of the fiddle, so much that he could play his way around Canada
and the States. During this time he was learning to sing in French and play a
whole new instrument at the same time. Upon returning home, he found out his
brother Andre was learning the accordion unbeknownst to him and soon after
they wrote their first song and the rest is history.
Louis with brother Andre performing at The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival
Both father's and son’s path in life took them far from their
homes so that they may find their place in the long line of music storytellers
that they continue to pursue to this day. Tommy Michot received his MS at Utah State University and it was while living out there that he started to feel the call back home. Sometimes you have to get outside
your own world to look back on it and see the true simplistic beauty that
existed right under your nose and in your blood. As Louis then said, "Sometimes you have to leave Louisiana to learn how to cook a gumbo"...true that.
Tommy Michot spent 30 years as a biologist with the U.S. Department of the Interior (Fish and Wildlife Service and USGS – National Wetlands Research Center). Now a Research Scientist with ICEE (Institute for Coastal Ecology and Engineering at Louisiana-Lafayette), Dr. Michot's research focus is on the ecology and management of coastal marshes, mangroves, and seagrass beds in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea, and how wintering waterfowl and other birds use those habitats. The inspiration for the music he plays is also a direct result from what he does and the inspiration he gets from his profession. Tommy's day job is all about "Louisiana as a living being and how to protect that". Through his music he has intertwined the two to spread that message in songs such as "Valse de Meche Perdu" aka The Lost Marsh Waltz. A song which they played for me later that day.
All the while talking to the Michot's I began to see the strong currents and connections that ran through their lives, while at the same time those similar connections that strung together each My Louisiana Muse artist. I got this comfortable sense that the stories of Louisiana's joy, pain, sorrow, and triumph were being told time and time again through each generation of "those that feel and hear" the message of their surroundings. It reminded me of what the poet Darrell Bourque said in our interview, that "the land is our first teacher". I think that if Louisiana is our first teacher, all that comes after those lessons are new tools to help speak its message. It's as if she lives through us and I feel she has been for thousands of years...
Stay tuned for the final installment of the 3 P's of My Louisiana Muse when I visit photographer Jenny Ellerbe on the mounds of Poverty Point...
When Jazz Fest pops up on the schedule, I know I am in for a long ride. As one of 3 staff photographers for the festival that attracts over 460,000+ fans and showcases hundreds of acts, I have my hands full for 7 days. My duties are to cover 4 stages of music non-stop. As always, I find the moments that tell the story of our city's wonderful music, food, fun and culture. But as the dust settled on another glorious year at the Fairgrounds, I heard another story waiting to be told.
On Tuesday I packed up my 4x5, Hasselblad, and my Polaroid SX-70 and hit the road to what I was calling “The 3 P’s of MLM” – meaning that I had stops in Pierre Part, Pilette, and Poverty Point to document 4 new artists in the “My Louisiana Muse” photography project.
(A little exciting side note here – in the recent weeks The Jazz and Heritage Foundation Gallery has agreed to show the finished project of My Louisiana Muse at their Gallery headquarters in New Orleans for an opening on September 12th. Stay tuned!)
The First P: Adam Morales – “The Driftwood Man” – Pierre Part, LA
Adam Morales, or better known to his adoning fans and multiple media outlets as “The Driftwood Man”, has lived in the same small wooden house since birth. His house sits between the picturesque Lake Verret to the front, and a deep tupelo cypress swamp to the back. Adam is perched in between miles, and miles, of cypress driftwood – and that’s only the wood he has picked out by hand. I have been visiting Adam for about 5 or 6 years bringing clients to his house and property for photo shoots, and to give me an excuse to sit down and shoot the shit. I feel Adam is one of the most genuine and raw artists I have ever met. His is honest about his art and makes his creations for no other reason than for the enjoyment of the public. Adam has created a museum of his home, and his creativity is brimming with the excitement of a child who has just discovered how wild and free life can be.
Over the last few decades, Adam has collected hundreds of thousands of cypress driftwood pieces, and has carefully labeled and organized them in rows broken down by size and price. As you look closer, you notice that each piece of wood has its own personality and its own story. Some even have plastic eyes Adam puts on them if the inspiration suits him. When doing this, the once lost piece of ancient wood takes on the personality of an owl, a fish, even a turtle. But even more majestic are his sculptural homages to freedom, religion, and folklore that cover his front yard.
Painstaking detail is seen when one looks closer at Adam’s
version of The Statue of Liberty, The 10 Commandments, a patriotic Bald Eagle,
and his many versions of the Loup Garou also known as the Cajun Werewolf.
“I’ve always seen images. I didn’t think too much about it,
but then I started bringing some of these images home. My first project was the
Lock Ness Monster. After that, when I started to pay attention to it, I started
to see them all over and I thank God for that. All my friends in the swamp, all
they see is junk. When I point it out to them, they are amazed” says Adam
With no formal art or sculpture training, Adam takes his
inspiration from nature and from God. He says that Mother Nature is the
original carver of the swamp, and that he then is the one to find it’s
handiwork. Adam truly has a gift to see a project at it’s end result when
boating around in the Atchafalaya Swamp, the origin of his driftwood pieces.
As we walk out of his kitchen Adam goes into “tour guide”
mode as he does when families and children visit him from all over the world.
He walks to the side of his house and in his thick Cajun accent tells me the
story of how he found three pieces of driftwood that make up a sword, shield, and a hat. He
puts them all on, and smiles. Every time I leave Pierre Part and my head is
still echoing Adam’s stories in his thick Cajun drawl I feel elated. It is so
uplifting to know someone who makes art not for money, notoriety, or even for
himself. A self taught artist, he is a listener and a doer. Nature speaks to
Adam Morales. Adam then shares with the world.
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Michel Varisco is an artist in the true sense of the word. You cannot pigeonhole her medium and she is not limited by the tools she uses to create. Her photography is very well known in the area and her message has often been one to sing the praises of our fragile landscape and show the beauty of it as well. I chose Michel for the My Louisiana Muse project because her work always reminds me of why I love this state so much: Water and trees.
Any time I meet with an artist to do their portrait, I always learn something new about them and myself. We chose the banks of the Mississippi River to do Michel's portrait and the location could not have been more perfect. Michel had just won (a week earlier) a $25,000 grant in the Civic Design Pitch from Propeller and The Idea Village. "Turning" is an interactive sculpture designed to be spun by the viewer, sound bells gently and glow like phosphoresce at night through laser cut imagery of the Mississippi River at various stages in its history through Louisiana. Pretty amazing! Congrats to Michel....
The morning we met was a typical foggy one in New Orleans, as they usually happen when winter turns slowing to spring. We met near both of our favorite levee spots uptown near the parish border. I have always liked to shoot there, even once bringing out a generator, fog, and lasers for a Quintron and Pussycat photo shoot. Good times indeed...
As the river level was so high, there were only a few spots to be found where I could get here even with the river, but we ended up finding the perfect little nook. Behind Michel you could see nothing but fog, water, and an ominous industrial landscape emerging from the West Bank.
Photo: Zack Smith - Michel Varisco on the Banks of the Mississippi River
My drive into the Prairie of Louisiana feels just like coming home. I am originally from Lafayette, but the simple drive north towards Opelousas, Sunset, Grand Coteau, and Arnaudville opens my mind like no other physical place on this earth. True, everything is bigger in Texas including the open roads and the Big Sky of Montana however, they do not even compare to the old soul and stories that permeate throughout The Louisiana Prairie. Just minutes off of I-49 and worlds away from the highway's moan and hustle is where you will find the beautiful city of Sunset, Louisiana, and more importantly the home of artist, Darrell Bourque. Out of the artists selected to participate in My Louisiana Muse, Darrell was the first artist I was able to sit down with to discuss more on his process, his connections, and his inspirations. Darrell wove stories of original 'La La' musician Amede Ardoin and musician Doug Kershaw in a photo booth. He spoke of family and tradition as well as the Cajun way of life. Needless to say, I felt at home. Due to his muddy lowland backyard, it took me longer than I thought to set up, but soon figured it out. I must extend a thank you to photographer, David Armentor, for lending me his much needed 90mm lens for the week. Without it, I would have never been able to capture the sweeping towers of bamboo!
In the backyard with Darrell Bourque, Sunset, LA
photo Zack Smith
My next artist stop had me crossing over I-49 and moving eastward in direction to the home of writer, photographer, blogger, musician, and mother Ashlee Michot. I have known Ashlee and her husband Louis for some years now and I will say, each year these two continue to grow creatively as a couple. It is inspiring. Aside from knowing Louis since almost birth and documenting his band, The Lost Bayou Ramblers, since ‘day one’, I was also the photographer for their wedding. They have created a beautiful home, beautiful children and a beautiful yet simple life in and around the fields of Arnaudville where Ashlee chases stories of Le Prairie Des Femmes - The Prairie of Women. Visit her Blog as it's worth the trip. The end of the day was spent behind her house photographing in a field of Mary statues - the original Femmes for holy people. But, in the field on that day, it seemed as if the Mary statues were watching and listening to Ashlee telling their story.
Ashlee Michot in her Prairie des Femmes in Arnaudville, LA
On Thursday, the very next day, I was up an hour before sunrise and on the road again to Lake Martin to meet painter, Melissa Bonin. I had forgotten how great it feels to be up, moving, and creating before the sun rises.
I enjoyed photographing Melissa, but I enjoyed learning in more detail about this deeply inspired artist even more. Melissa visits an area and does not paint her scenes until she gets back to her studio. This way, she gives the story time to sink in and develop her thoughts, actions, and colors which then breathe inspiration. I found that very interesting. When the light became just right, we made our compositions as the sun started to creep into the new day (see below). As with all of the artists portraits included in this project, I am not so concerned with the use of digital photography as I am with using 4x5 black and white film for my artist portrait photographs. The digital photos I do shoot (and seen here) are all with the Petzval lens for my Canon which gives me the "swirly" bokeh you see in the images on the blog. The Bromoil process requires the use of film to secure rich quality images with enhanced effects and highlights which in the end captures the passion and beauty of your subject.
My last portrait of the day was with artist, Bryan LaFaye. I met Bryan in Lafayette and we high tailed it south to Avery Island, home of the McIlhenny Tabasco facility that sits atop massive salt domes. It is a daunting task to speak or write of the majesty I saw that day, but I will try. Avery Island sits atop a huge salt dome and is home to a bird sanctuary, cypress swamps, a Buddha shrine, wild and free alligators, and the most beautiful old oak groves you will ever see. There were so many locations and backgrounds to choose from, but thankfully in the end our location chose us. Bryan talked about this open area in between the massive oaks where he taught his daughter how to ride a bike. This was our spot and we could feel its stories - his story. At once, Bryan became comfortable, moved slower, and reflected upon his art and life.
This project has opened my eyes to a better understanding to what moves artists to do what they do on such a deeper level. My Louisiana Muse is becoming a key to unlocking the connections between Louisiana artists and what inspires them to create and continue living out their passions. I ask each of you reading this right now to join me on this journey as we discover the connections between these powerfully creative and important culture bearers from our great state. FOLLOW THIS BLOG!
After many phone discussions with my gracious artists for the My Louisiana Muse project, I am happy to say that this week I begin photographing! I will be on the road from Tuesday through Thursday photographing all over Cajun country and I cannot be more excited. I do love going "home" to the place of my birth and reconnecting with the soil, the families, and my roots. The mere thought of just being able to spend One on One time with such talented artists such as Darrell Bourque, Ashlee Michot, Bryan LaFaye and Melissa Bonin makes any travel well worth it.
I truly do love speaking with artists and those that create for a living. Being able to follow one's passion and have that be your life is something I had always dreamed of as a young man and I am proud to say I am doing just that. I feel I need to connect with other artists of different mediums and just "check in" with them, you know? I am so interested in their process, their connection, and their inspirations. With my project, My Louisiana Muse, I hope to gain more knowledge and hear more stories about the many creative journeys these folks have.
I will travel to Arnaudville, Sunset, New Iberia and spend some time in Lake Martin photographing the artists. Needless to say, I am pumped!
I have said it before, but I learn so much from talking to all of the artists involved with the My Louisiana Muse project. I spend about 25 minutes or more with each artist and am always left satisfied but wanting more! I feel one conversation is only scratching the surface with New Orleans artist Dawn Dedeaux. Looking through her website to get a feeling of her past work as it relates to her journey as an artist and where she is now, i got an overwhelming sense of panic. I did not know where to start our conversation. I remember first meeting Dawn when i lived on N. Gayoso St. near the Fairgrounds around 2003/2004. Dawn lived in the house next door and her house was like a backwoods cypress art museum. And that was just the front porch! Dawn's home and backyard were works of art themselves as she constantly surrounded herself with art and inspiration.
Over the last 10 years i ran into Dawn here and there, mostly when I was more active as curator of the Canary Gallery on Julia St. Most recently I photographed Dawn and our mutual friend J. Poggi serving as wedding ministers. Through those moments Dawn has kept such a frantic pace of producing new art that it's hard to keep in touch with her, hence my panic. But our conversation was great. It was fluid and insightful, and I learned so much.
Dawn's work ranges from site specific installations in nature to Julia Street galleries and museums. Dedeaux has mastered many artistic tools that are used to speak her message and is able to switch media to best deliver the idea. She loves the natural world and the assault of the natural world (it's potential peril) has been a passionate theme in her work, i.e. Katrina, BP Oil Spill. These many talents and attributes in an artist are rare and I am honored to have her in My Louisiana Muse.
Detail of Dawn Dedeaux's Mothership
Louisiana and it's environs have much to do with inspiring Dawn and her work. Dawn is happy at the "edge" of Louisiana..she loves the swamp, the bayou, and the water. She grew up near City Park and hopes City Park's administration allows it to remain a natural place. (as she tells me "you can print that!"). Dedeaux feels the new trails, toy sets for kids, and dog parks are taking away from it's "gorgeous natural vistas" (paraphrased from Dawn). I have to agree with her. At what point does serenity of green space seen on the abandoned North Course inherit some sort of "do not build" clause?
Of all the selected artists participating in "My Louisiana Muse", New Orleans Photographer, Frank Relle , is one I am in touch with most often. I moved to New Orleans in 2000 and not long afterwards, was introduced to Frank. We became instant friends and remember the parallels and love for many common goals, ideals, and musings of the city and art. I was very impressed by his thirst for knowledge and driving energy when it came to telling a story about photography, or just telling a story about whatever. 10+ years later, I am happy to have Frank Relle working with me as one of the selected artist for this project, "My Louisiana Muse".
I enjoyed talking to Frank about what inspires him about Louisiana and what it really comes down to is wanting to get YOU out there. Frank wants you to explore more, see the swamp, feel the water, the wind, and the moss. We talked about how we are surrounded by so much water and swamps by living down here and how it is so accessible, but sadly under used.
When you see his current series of night swamp scenes from "Until the Water", you really do feel a peace of place as you gaze upon his sodium vapor lit long exposures. You can say "Place" is a central theme to the work Frank produces...it all centers around a true understanding of the environment in which he was raised (SE LA). We talked about his first encounters with that environment.
"For me the visual views of the state came to life as a kid, sitting in the back row of our station wagon as we drove across town and Lake Pontchartrain, looking backwards. My muse was made through the car window as a child.." says Frank. I told Frank that i had a similar story riding in my mothers mid-70's station wagon, diesel fumes and all and high as a 4 year old can get, gazing upon the disappearing landscape. We all had viewfinders at some time in our lives before we started getting "learned" and "taught" how to stand up straight, be adults, and all that....
So that window was Franks first camera viewfinder and since then has been ever composing his view of his surroundings for us to see. It's a great story, but an even better one is the story he tells with his new series "Until the Water" which can be seen in his gallery on Felicity Street in the Lower Garden District. Check his website/FB for more info on openings/viewings.
And how about that logo? Made by the super talented Tom Williams of Tomfoolery Design. Check him out soon...trust me, it'll do you good.
I want to wish everyone a happy 2015 and i sincerely hope you get out what you put in. Yes, you're going to have to do some work! As we know that hoping, wishing, and praying that good things will come our way never really amounts to much. As self employed creatives we learn early on that although we feel our work is great, that's not enough to get the right people to notice and present those treasured unique opportunities. In order to reach the next level we need to actively be learning, creating community, and focusing on how our tools can continue to tell our story.
Yesterday was January 1st. Helen and i worked really hard cooking for some friends and in the back of my mind was the reward of falling asleep on the couch watching the Cotton Rose Bowls. I worked for it, and i got it.
Today as we are now deep in 2015 i met with two dear friends, and talented artists talk with them about My Louisiana Muse. Nick Slie (artist, performer, director Mondo Bizarro and the critically acclaimed "Cry You One") and writer/poet/musician Moose Jackson. The two have collaborated on many performances, most notably "Loup Garou"
These two artists alone - powerful, rooted, spritual.
These two artists together - incendiary, historical, seers.
We talked about places that inspired them to create. We talked about Pierre Part and Lake Verret as holding a 'starting point' for the creation of the story of Loup Garou which led to it's performance not without the help of other local entities such as Jeff Becker, and Art Spot Production. We talked of the "deep swamp", Adam "Cypress Man" Morales, and other artists and characters.
I get constant inspiration from Moose and Nick. Their desire to seek the truth of Louisiana's past through the stories of it's peoples only tells me that they care about this states future. My Louisiana Muse is HONORED to have them...
It's a great Christmas as today I am reading from a very informative book on the bromoil that came out in 2006. It is a great book that highlights the chemical mixtures I will need to do as well as getting me reacquainted with all of the application techniques and instruments used.
Reading this book brings me back to my phase in 2004 when all I did were Bromoils , and I really learned so much about postproduction with fine art photography, little-known to me at that point. From 1997 until 2003 I stuck with traditional black-and-white printing in the dark room with maybe just a slight alternative process toning at the end of the process.
I'm also reading another book about the bromoil that was put out in 1923. This book is more about the aesthetic standpoint of the photographers that I just rediscovered bromoil after it's "comeback" in 1907. Reading these two books in tandem is a great way to learn the history and the newer techniques and combined them as I approach my rediscovery with this project.