'My Louisiana Muse' Artists Portraits Begins in Cajun Country

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
photo Zack Smith

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.

Before sunrise in Lake Martin, LA
photo Zack Smith

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.

Melissa Bonin at Lake Martin. Thursday's 1st Golden Hour.
photo Zack Smith

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.

Bryan LaFaye in an oak grove at Avery Island, LA
photo by Zack Smith

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!

Coming Up!......local New Orleans photographer Michel Varisco!

And West We Go! Photographing my first portraits of My Louisiana Muse - Lafayette - Arnaudville - Sunset - New Iberia

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!

Lache Pas!