New Orleans photographer Frank Relle found himself in Moscow at the height of the recent political crises in the Crimea and Ukraine. Walking freely through this city of more than 13 million, he says he really couldn’t feel any of the tensions of those events out on the streets or in the immaculate subways.
In Russia at the invitation of the U.S State Department and the American Embassy in Moscow, his task was to mount a large exhibition reflecting life in New Orleans and South Louisiana at the Moscow House of Photography Museum. Frank, who has little grasp of the Russian language, knows he missed a lot of what was being reported in the newspapers and on television. But, excellent observer that he is of what’s around him at all times, he says Moscow looked and felt a lot like a large American city coming out of a long and cold winter.
“The tulips were in bloom and everything was green,” Frank says. “It was kind of like Chicago where, after the winter, all of a sudden the streets are filled with people and there’s a celebration that you can feel.
“You know politics and weather, they’re all local, and Moscow is many kilometers away from Kiev. People in Moscow are just living their lives. Every day you can see that they go to work, try to have a good time with their families in the evening, figure ways to get on the subway or drive in the traffic.
“And then there were some things where it was like: Oh wait, I’m in Moscow; I’m in Russia.”
Coming face to face with Moscow police while taking photographs was one of those things.
“There are certain things you can’t take pictures of,” Frank explains. “When a police officer there tells you you can’t take photographs, it’s with a level of power that’s different from the level of power I’ve heard from police officers in the United States.”
Being told that some of the more-than-1100 photos in the exhibition were removed because it was thought they reflected a homosexual way of life was another thing that stopped him in his tracks. Yet, he says, there were other images on the same subject that were never removed.
“The issue of homosexuality drew a lot of attention,” he says. “Michel Varisco’s photography of a ballerina boy, which is a very humorous scene on Bourbon Street of a man who could be straight or gay dressed as a ballerina, that image engaged a tremendous amount of varied attention from humor to curiosity to an appreciation of the freedom of expression in the photograph.”
But images reflecting the subject of homosexuality in New Orleans was just one small part of a huge exhibition covering everything from Carnival to daily life on the bayous, from second-line parades to outdoor signage. New Orleans in Photography was an enormous success: On the first night alone, the museum stayed open until 2 a.m. with more than 10,000 attending.
To see what all the excitement was about and to see a small sample of New Orleans in Photography on view, go to www.cultureshare.net.