The American Dream Denied

Jonathan Traviesa

Jonathan Traviesa is an artist and photographer based in New Orleans since 1997. Recognized by the New Orleans Photo Alliances inaugural Michael P. Smith Award in 2009, his work has also been featured at the New Orleans Museum of Art; Fotofest Houston; Winkleman Gallery, New York; the Louisiana State Museum at the Cabildo and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans, among other venues. He is a founding member of The Front co-op gallery on St. Claude Avenue and has taught photography in the Newcomb Art Department of Tulane University for the past six years. Traviesa holds a BA from the University of New Orleans and an MFA from Tulane University.

In Summer 2019, I was invited by the Louisiana Bucket Brigade to shoot eight portraits of people featured in the “Women of Cancer Alley” film. These pictures are part of an ongoing portrait project that I started in the late 1990s by photographing people in the outside areas around their homes using a square format camera. The subjects are usually captured full figure, and around them, filling in the rest of the frame, are fragments of the residential landscape. These portraits —like any good environmental portrait— attempt to marry a person and his/her immediate environment. I believe that who these people are is shaped, in part, by the spaces they know and live around. Conversely, a space, especially a localized or private one, comes alive when inhabited by someone who knows it intimately. In these specific pictures, the presence of petrochemical refineries nearby is felt. Front porches and side yards serve as detailed backdrops for the lives and lifestyles of the folks in the series.

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