When levee failures following Hurricane Katrina left New Orleans uninhabitable in 2005, many questioned whether it would survive. Would its residents, including its creative community, return? Artists responded with schemes that sounded like pipe dreams, but both the Prospect New Orleans international contemporary art triennial and the New Orleans Photo Alliance's annual PhotoNOLA photography expo have their roots in responses to the devastation and now are globally celebrated events. With P.4 opening recently, they are like loopy bon vivants at a citywide Easter egg hunt, and sometimes they intersect. PhotoNOLA's opening event is headlined by P.4 art star Xaviera Simmons, whose work is at the New Orleans Museum of Art. While many of Prospect.4's 73 artists use photography, PhotoNOLA's ever-expanding roster features a diverse array of photographers showing work at more than 60 venues, including well-known museums and galleries and obscure pop-up spaces.
The Ogden Museum of Southern Art, which is exhibiting an array of P.4 pieces, also hosts PhotoNOLA's Currents 2017 show, with work by 17 Photo Alliance members, including several based in other cities. Other prominent art spaces include A Gallery for Fine Photography, featuring P.4 artist Michel Varisco's surreal photos of New Orleans as a modern Atlantis. There also are colorfully focused group shows at The Front on St. Claude Avenue and the Soren Christensen Gallery in the Warehouse District. But PhotoNOLA shines a special light on exotic fare such as Celia and Jose Fernandes' Insentient Objects: Capitalism, Commodification and Catharsis exhibit (at Eight One Eight Contemporary Photography Gallery on Royal Street) and noted curator Richard McCabe's Land Star show of recent photographs created with vintage Polaroid cameras, on view at Little Shotgun House at 2946 Maurepas St. St. Claude Avenue also has surprises at places including The Grand Maltese Gallery (3040 St. Claude Ave.), where the surreal Catharsis exhibit of work by Lauren Simonutti, Cornelia Hediger and Brittany Markert probes exotic psychic terrain where All Soul's Day meets the swamp, as in Markert's Menage a Trois (pictured). Like its namesake city, PhotoNOLA 2017 is no slouch when it comes to encounters with the unexpected. — D. ERIC BOOKHARDT