PetaPixel

New Orleans Nightscapes: Beautiful Long Exposure Photos of NOLA Houses

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Heartbreak and tribulation are never something we strive for. Yet, they’re unavoidable byproducts of a life well-lived, that teach us lessons along the way.

In addition to those lessons, these struggles often produce inspiration out of a need for escape or expression. And it was such a need that drove New Orleans native Frank Relle into the welcome embraces of long exposure photography and the city he calls home.

After a romantic heartbreak following his freshman year in college, Relle and his best friend (who had recently been injured in a car accident), walked the streets of the Garden District in New Orleans, each recovering from their respective struggles.

While walking through the streets, taking in the scenery, the two would create stories about the houses they came across. Doing so, Relle said in an interview with The New York Times, “got me thinking about how you could use the house as a backdrop to the personality of those inside and get at the theater of their lives.”

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That little insight was the seed for a creative endeavor that would not come about until several years later, in 2004. After being fired from a plethora of jobs and returning home to New Orleans, one night, while teaching someone how to capture a long-exposure, something about the resulting image Relle saw on the back of his camera caught his attention.

He was hooked.

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Combining his new-found creative outlet with his passion for using homes as a ‘crystal ball’ into the personalities of those who lived there, Relle started up “New Orleans Nightscapes.”

Using his grandmother’s Lincoln Town Car, he began driving around the streets of New Orleans capturing photographs using available street light and occasionally sneaking in a lighting rig when he could — plugging it into outlets outside the homes of sleeping residents.

Since then, he’s stepped up his game, bringing his own lighting truck, asking permission from residents and even asking police to momentarily close down streets he’s wanting to shoot on. And as you can see from the collection of images below, the results are well worth the trouble, both emotional and otherwise, that he’s had to go through to capture them:

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Unfortunately, the project almost ended as soon as it began. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans hard, forcing Relle to head on up to New York to stay with his mentor, Chris Callis.

Feeling a bit distraught from the thought that New Orleans Nightscapes was going to end sooner than he had hoped, it took a conversation with Charles Traub, a professor at the School of Visual Arts, to give him a new perspective on the project. As he told The New York Times:

Charles told me: ‘No, the story of those houses is just beginning. You’ve got to go back.’ The hurricane actually extended the life of this project and my understanding of it as well. It broadened my view of New Orleans, taking me to places I had not been before.

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According to Relle, the series strives to present a view of New Orleans few outsiders see. Rather than capturing the historical-ridden buildings and areas, he wants viewers to see the houses as a backdrop to the culture there, serving as a topic of discussion about the people that live there, how they got there, and why they stay.

“There are no people in my photos, but they are all character sketches of the people I grew up with,” he explained, again speaking to The Times. “I want to make things that encapsulate that and are able to communicate that not in explicit terms, but giving people access and letting them create their own narratives.”

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The series is beautiful, and without a doubt captures what Relle is hoping to share with the world. Simple, long exposure photographs of houses that somehow contain profound insights about the people who call them home.

I’m sure he would tell you the inspiration behind it wasn’t always fun, but it goes to show that, with the right amount of motivation and determination, the weakest moments in your life can become a turning point or footstool to your most impressive achievements.

(via The New York Times Lens Blog)


Frank Relle is currently curating a photography exhibit about Louisiana sponsored by the United States Embassy in Moscow. The show will open in mid-May at the Multimedia Museum House of Photography in Moscow.


Image credits: Photographs by Frank Relle and used with permission


 
  • Metasepia

    why nobody habit these houses?

  • harumph

    You didn’t hear about Hurricane Katrina? And not all of the houses are uninhabited.

  • kb

    Some good pictures of some fascinating places, but the artificial lighting—found or set-up— is often ugly, as it is in most places. Eventually, LED streetlights will bring an end to the oppressive sick-amber high-pressure sodium vapor lamps.

  • Matt

    Pretty cool images. But, kind of had the impression that it was kind of touristy in its POV. Maybe I’m wrong. But, still some great images.

  • Cynical Bloke

    Touristy nails it on the head, these shots just don’t look like well thought out large format images.

  • MJ Coffey

    Beautiful images.

  • http://jtruephotography.com/ Jeremiah True

    Now that I shoot digital I agree with this, to a point. I actually appreciate the different colors of light and the way that it changes the way we see things at night.

  • http://nakedlunch02.wix.com/austin Mark Trevino

    You have to love how people get so much attention for the exact same things that little lesser known people have been doing for years. I’ve been doing this without any substitute light ever since I got my 1st DSLR. Granted it gives the image a look like no other, but again, it’s nothing new.

  • http://jtruephotography.com/ Jeremiah True

    Seeing that he is using LF equipment is refreshing. I am getting back into the format again and haven’t gone out too much yet, mostly due to lack of familiarity with the equipment. This is inspiring to me.

  • Frank Relle

    Many of the houses are lived in but appear abandoned because of the lack of people and cars in the photographs.

  • Frank McKenna

    Do you know PetaPixel allows everyday photographers to write and post articles as guest? They’ve let me do a few. If you have some cool ideas, I bet they would love to hear from you.

  • Frank Relle

    I guess this goes without saying considering my photographs but I love the mixed of golden sodium and mercury vapor green. I actually bring those lights to the set to augment the color. The blueish white LED is a sick antiseptic hospital color and will bring an end to much of the warm romantic quality to night walks.

  • Frank Relle

    Thanks for the appreciation of my photographs. If they are touristy I’d love to see another shot of any of the buildings depicted.

  • Frank Relle

    Thanks for you appreciation of my work.

  • Frank Relle

    I have worked on this project for 10 years without widespread recognition. Keep working and your day will come.

  • Frank Relle

    Of course when your day comes, many people will say, “oh that’s been done before.” But that’s photographers, you know.

  • http://jtruephotography.com/ Jeremiah True

    I prefer sodium vapor or mercury bulbs to LED all night long. They have a sickly color to them like Frank said and it takes some of the magic out of shooting at night.

  • Joe Taravella

    Thank you for such a beautiful portrayal of my city. I recognize many of these areas and you did the landscape justice.

  • Frank Relle

    Thank you Joe for your appreciation of New Orleans and my work.

  • B William Crochet

    You don’t have to walk far in uptown New Orleans to go from dilapidated structures to true elegance. I think the images capture that. What is missing are images of the many restoration projects. I would like to see more. I assume the “touristy” comment is less than a compliment, but if it means sales to support more time and equipment to photography, I hope the tourist love them! I suspect it the “ruin porn” debate that initiated that comment.

  • Bolle

    If he shot large format, why didn’t he avoid the converging lines?

  • http://nakedlunch02.wix.com/austin Mark Trevino

    thanks chief, but I’m not looking for recognition,I’ve had pics published in NATGEO, I do it because I love it. My point was how lately it seems online image sources seem to make a big deal out of things like they are new,when people have been doing it for years. Congrats btw. ;)

  • Jack Etherton Truitt

    I’ve met Frank and purchased two of his works. He is a humble genius. His work captures the very essence of New Orleans. I would fill my house with his works, if I could. To those who diminish his creativity, I say do your own thing, then, and work the small art shows like Frank did.

  • http://www.anke-art.de Anke Arnold

    Frank, your photographs are beautiful! I had the chance to visit New Orleans twice, both times before Katrina. Your pictures revive lots of wonderful memories, and at the same time they hurt and seem to say “cherish what you’ve got, you never know how long it will last”.

  • JW Wilkerson

    This is an important question and the source of the confusion I feel when viewing these photographs. If he took the time to frame and compose these images with a cumbersome LF setup, why stop short of simple rise adjustments that would preserve the verticals and achieve a much greater overall elegance? I think the images are beautiful, but this strikes me as either a missed opportunity or a misfired creative decision.

  • Seceshful

    I love the lighting, it really sets a New Orleans mood in most of them. Is the two story with the electric pole in front the Beauregard house?