My Louisiana Muse Exhibit at the Jazz and Heritage Gallery comes down...

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.

"Smoke on the Water" Photographing New Orleans photographer Michel Varisco on the banks of the rising Mississippi River

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 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!


My talk with New Orleans artist Dawn Dedeaux

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.

Dawn Dedeaux inside The Mothership - from NY Times Article photo: Paul Costello

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?

Her current project is an official PROSPECT 3 (P3) site that sits in a lot behind the corner of Elysian Fields and Rampart St. The current site for MotherShip II: Dreaming of a Future Past and MotherShip III: The StationInstallations, unused since the 60's, was cleared out by Dawn herself. She turned this unused space into a habitable park. You can still see her exhibit as there are many opportunities and closings on the horizon. I am so honored to have her in My Louisiana Muse.