Ten thousand Russians attended the opening day of an exhibition at Moscow’s Multimedia Art Museum that featured hundreds of photographs of “normal” life in and around New Orleans. Scenes Louisianians might consider unremarkable — including crab boils, corner bars, multiracial street scenes and parades —Russians found completely astonishing.
“There’s an unabashed love of American culture,” said Frank Relle, a prominent West Bank photographer and curator of the show sponsored by the United States Embassy in Moscow.
The Moscow House of Photography exhibition, “New Orleans in Photographs,” features 100 large, framed images by 58 professional photographers as well as 1,000 smaller Instagram images that Relle and his assistant curator Catie Sampson culled from 10,000 submitted.
The exhibit also includes many images from rural Louisiana.
The intriguing mix of professional work and social media images is a method Relle has previously employed to convey a multidimensional impression. He wanted to give museum visitors a sense of visiting the city with all its complexity.
“This show is like an invitation for the curiosity of others...it’s like a dinner party that needs guests,” Relle said.
Diverse images captured brass bands, jazz funerals, Mardi Gras Indians, Saints fans, festivals, and Cajun hunters, among many others.
Native New Orleans photographer Michel Varisco, for example, contributed two photographs taken on Fat Tuesday during the Krewe of Saint Anne walking parade as well as a documentary-style portrait of a Pointe à la Hache oyster fisherman.
Two years ago, the embassy invited Relle to create an exhibition that might foster an appreciation for the city’s cultural gumbo.
“The embassy wanted to capture a unique slice of American culture,” said Tony Micocci, a performing arts consultant who introduced the embassy to Relle. He is mounting a series of cultural exchanges in Moscow focusing on New Orleans film, music, dance and food.
“They fell in love with this idea from the beginning,” Micocci said.
Relle discovered that Russians felt real passion for photography.
“Their reactions were informed, appreciated,” Relle said. During the art opening, he engaged several museum attendees, recording their reactions and asking them to describe what they saw.
“I see a poem dedicated to a really strange city for me, and it was amazing,” said attendee Max Kirichenko. “It has no narrative, just discrete images.”
Viewers often commented on the juxtaposition of calculated vs. casual photographs.
The “large, well-exposed, thoughtfully composed, sharp photos” provide an anchor, said Relle, but “the democratic social media images create a compelling opportunity for cross-cultural visual understanding.”
The proliferation of fragmented images depicted many views of everyday life.
“It is a good way to see something because it’s real. Lots of little pictures, like a panorama,” said Anastasia Sofanosa.
Other viewers were struck by Louisiana’s racial mix and tolerance of differences.
“The spectrum is very wide,” said a visitor called Yuri.
“I have never seen an exhibition with such a humanitarian, true and open approach,” said Maria Kroupnik, an international communications and arts manager who helped coordinate the show.
“The exhibition that Frank Relle created, talks directly to my heart with the colors, views, architecture, faces and places,,” Kroupnik said.
After the current exhibition closes on June 12, Relle wants to turn the tables, creating a similar “Culture Share” focused on Russian culture for display here. He spent less than a month in Moscow, merely scratching the surface of cultural understanding, he said.
Despite uncertain international relations between the two nations, ordinary Russians found meaning in the prism of images.
“We all are people. We have wishes. We want to live. We want be happy, we want to be closer to each other. We want to talk, and we have the same problems,” Dimitry Kotenko said.
A selection of the exhibition will be installed at the home of the U.S. ambassador after it closes.
ä ON THE INTERNET:
See the exhibition at www.cultureshare.net.