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Preview: PhotoNOLA

Will Coviello snaps a look at the annual exhibit by New Orleans photographers

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When Russell Lord arrived in New Orleans to begin work as the New Orleans Museum of Art's (NOMA) Curator of Photographs, Prints and Drawings in October 2011, he barely had time to participate in PhotoNOLA, the citywide photography festival featuring shows, portfolio reviews and other events. But he signed on as a portfolio reviewer anyway, and then again in 2012 and this year.

  During PhotoNOLA, NOMA has four photo shows up, including the project Lord had started in 2011, Photography at NOMA. For it, he culled 133 photographs from more than 10,000 photos in NOMA's collection, and they represent all sorts of photos: fine art, documentary, scientific, advertising and more.

  "It tries to get to the cultural ambitions of photography," Lord says. "How it's been part of every facet of our life since its introduction in the 19th century."

  NOMA also has two other photo exhibitions open at the museum. Gordon Parks: The Making of an Argument features pictures the photographer and filmmaker (Shaft) shot in the 1940s in New York. There's also a show of gifts to the photo collection in the recently opened A. Charlotte Mann and Joshua Mann Pailet Gallery. Lord also curated Water, the show of large-scale photos by Edward Burtynsky on view at the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC). The show features mesmerizing pictures of water works and aerial views of waterways, and Burtynsky wanted to premiere the exhibition in an area affected by water issues. Lord wasn't able to house the show at NOMA and suggested it could be part of a growing relationship with the CAC. Lord also wanted to take advantage of the timing.

  "PhotoNOLA weighed in our decision about when we would have all of this material up," he says. "PhotoNOLA is a pretty substantial effort to bring in all these scholars, curators, gallery owners, publishers and photographers.

  Lord adds that his goals for NOMA are similar to PhotoNOLA's: making New Orleans a bigger part of national and international discussions of photography. Lord cofounded Focus, a group of photography curators and scholars from institutions including the Museum of Modern Art, The Art Institute of Chicago, The Getty Center, the Yale University Art Gallery and others. He convened a meeting of the group in New Orleans in November, and many are returning to see shows at PhotoNOLA or to review portfolios.

  Two major PhotoNOLA events happen at NOMA. Local photographer Deborah Luster delivers the keynote lecture at 6 p.m. Thursday. Luster is known for photos of Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola and exploring scenes of violent crime in New Orleans. The lecture is followed by the PhotoNOLA gala (tickets $25), which features music by the Norbert Slama Trio, circus entertainers, a photobooth, hors d'oeuvres and wine.

  Major PhotoNOLA events include two days of portfolio reviews, in which photographers get individual feedback from photography professionals (photographers must sign up in advance on the website). The public can view photos from the portfolio review at Photowalk. Seventy photographers display their work from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday in the Ogden Museum of Southern Art's Patrick F. Taylor Library. Admission is free. There are three current photo exhibits in conjunction with PhotoNOLA. They include The Mythology of Florida, Annie Collinge: The Underwater Mermaid Theater and Into the Light, featuring photos from Ogden's permanent collection.

  The Contemporary Arts Center is showing Water and The Great Picture, the largest photograph in the world (see "The Great Picture and PhotoNOLA," p. 60). During December, the museum also features Unfolding Images, a temporary library of photo books.

  There are approximately 65 photography exhibitions in conjunction with PhotoNOLA, most of which opened the first week of December and run through the end of the month or beyond. A few notable shows include New Orleans photographers Louviere + Vanessa's The Oblivion Atlas at A Gallery for Fine Photography (241 Chartres St.), David Halliday: Threadbare at Arthur Roger Gallery (434 Julia St.) and Gerry Yaum: Body Sellers, about young sex workers in Thailand, at Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center (1618 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd.). Several St. Claude art district galleries hold opening receptions for photography shows Saturday, which is the district's monthly night of gallery openings.

  In Jefferson Parish, the East Bank Regional Library (4747 W. Napoleon Ave., Metairie) presents a show of M. Kucera's cyanotypes.

  At the Old U.S. Mint, the Louisiana State Museum presents photos from Pictures of the Year International's photojournalism competition, culled from more than 50,000 entries in sports to war reporting.

  The New Orleans Photo Alliance (1111 St. Mary St.), which organizes PhotoNOLA, hosts a show of 2012 PhotoNOLA Photography Review winner Deb Schwedhelm's work featuring underwater photos. For a full list of PhotoNOLA events and shows, visit the website.

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