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New Orleans: A Beloved City

November 12, 2005 - February 19, 2006


(above: Michael A. Smith, House on Tchoupatoulis Street, 1986, gelatin silver chloride contact print, 18 x 22 inches, Collection of the artist)


The James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown announces New Orleans: A Beloved City, an exhibition of photographs taken by Michael A. Smith in the mid-1980s. This special exhibition was planned in the wake of Hurricane Katrina's tragic demolition of much of the city, and will be accompanied by a fundraising effort for "Museums Helping Museums," a national relief effort helping Gulf Coast area museums and cultural treasures rebuild and recover from the recent hurricane (www.aam-us.org/sp/mhm). The exhibit will be on view in the Betz Gallery from November 12, 2005 through February 19, 2006; and will accompanied by a donation box for contributions to the "Museums Helping Museums" fund.

In 1984 Bucks County photographer Michael A. Smith was commissioned by the Historic New Orleans Collection -- a private foundation and museum based in the city's French Quarter -- to photograph neighborhoods and buildings throughout New Orleans. Over five separate trips from 1984-86, Smith spent over ten weeks on the streets of New Orleans, and produced over 800 negatives in three different formats, of which he finished 405. (right: Michael A. Smith, At Lake Pontchartrain, 1985, gelatin silver chloride contact print, 8 x 10 inches, Collection of the artist)

"As it turns out, these photographs have become increasingly important in the aftermath of the terrible flooding from Hurricane Katrina," Smith says. The exhibition will include more than 40 photographs from his New Orleans project. Viewers will recognize some of the city's iconic buildings and landmarks, ranging from Royal Street in the French Quarter to the shores of Lake Ponchartrain; from Preservation Hall to the Superdome.

"New Orleans is perhaps the most distinctive city in the United States," Smith says. "It has a charm that few other American cities can match. I hope I did it justice."

Smith uses large-format cameras and makes contact prints, a technique in which the negative is placed in direct contact with the photographic paper rather than enlarged. This is a somewhat laborious process, but one that results in extraordinary richness and depth in the prints. "The bottom line is, it's more beautiful," he says. "It gives the prints a presence you just don't get in enlargements."

While Smith did no special research before beginning the project, he did write up a script identifying various neighborhoods within the city, which he went over with his assistant "to make sure that I covered the territory," he explains.

Through Smith's lens, this exhibition offers a window onto the city's incomparable character before the devastation of Hurricane Katrina: from its famous above-ground cemeteries to its notorious watering holes, from shotgun houses to grand avenues.

A donation box will be provided for visitors to make contributions to the "Museums Helping Museums" hurricane relief effort throughout the run of the exhibition. Also in conjunction with this exhibition, and in acknowledgement of the city's reputation as the home of jazz music, the Museum will donate the proceeds from its January 28, 2006, jazz concert, featuring vocalist Ella Ghant of Philadelphia's Legends of Jazz Orchestra, to the "Museums Helping Museums" effort.


(above: Michael A. Smith, House in St. Charles Avenue, Uptown, 1984, screenprint on paper, 23 x 14 1/2 inches, gelatin silver chloride contact print, 8 x 10", Collection of the artist)

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