I was overjoyed to be able to walk around in the Scott Edwards Gallery today on a slow New Orleans Sunday. I wanted the Michael P. Smith photography exhibit all to myself in order to soak it up again after last night’s quick visit on opening night. I am a firm believer that the “proof is in the print” and that the quality and artistic merit of all photography is wether or not the image can be printed well and hung on a wall…silver and all. The photographs hanging in the gallery right now are a beauty to behold. Michael’s images are a trip back in time to a simpler New Orleans culture we know all too well now in a different way.
Through his images I was seeing the history of Jazz Fest through the camera’s worn by the crowd, the wood panel stages held together by metal scaffolding, and I was seeing the worn streets of the Wards of our city like they will never, ever be again.
There are no cell phones, Ipads, digital cameras in the way of the street culture as Michael saw it. There is no technology minus the neon signs or pay phones that dot a Treme corner store. There is a naked, old, raw New Orleans. There is a realness to his music photography that exhibits an unashamed bravado of time and place that will never before be witnessed.
As I look back on my 7 years of photographing Jazz Fest as a staff photographer, and the previous 7 before that for publications, I can say I have witnessed the magic of that festival and what it represents. In a different way I have seen what he has seen, but in a more corporate, refined “brand” aspect. In his time as Jazz Fest’s lensman, there is a void of large corporate sponsors, banners of brands and signage dictating who’s money made this cultural gathering possible. You can see at this gallery show, in Michael P. Smith’s time, and in his images, there is only the naked, raw, joyous New Orleans. See it while you can.