jdbs2 - 9/28/2008 at 12:56 PM
Famed N.O. photog Michael P. Smith dies
05:54 PM CDT on Saturday, September 27, 2008
Dominic Massa / Eyewitness News
Michael P. Smith
New Orleans photographer Michael P. Smith, whose work chronicled the city’s cultural, musical and folk traditions for more than four decades, including 34 Jazz & Heritage Festivals, died Friday. He was 71.
“He defined the look of Jazz Fest,” festival producer Quint Davis said in 2004, when Smith’s friends and colleagues organized a tribute at the festival to mark his retirement.
A New Orleans native, Smith documented the traditions of the city’s Mardi Gras Indians, jazz funerals, second line parades, social aid and pleasure clubs and spiritual churches throughout his legendary career. His photos also document the careers of countless New Orleans musicians of all genres, performing in large venues and neighborhood clubs, including Tipitina’s, the iconic club of which he was an original owner.
"When I'm out there on the streets or in a club, I'm enjoying myself in the authentic environment of New Orleans culture, but I'm also acting out an obsession with documenting as much as I can about the music," Smith said in 1995 Times-Picayune article.
A Jazz Fest fixture
Smith’s photographs of every Jazz Fest from its debut in 1970 until his retirement in 2004 form a priceless archive of that important event, from its humble beginnings in Congo Square to its status as a major musical and cultural happening, not to mention a multimillion dollar economic engine. When Smith retired in 2004, the festival mounted a retrospective of his work, which is also chronicled in five books released by Pelican Publishing, three of which deal with the music scene: “New Orleans Jazz Fest: A Pictorial History,” “A Joyful Noise: A Celebration of New Orleans Music” and “Jazz Fest Memories,” written with Jazz Fest co-founder Allison Miner. Pelican Publishing also published a book of Smith’s Mardi Gras Indian photos and photographs chronicling the traditions of black spiritual churches.
Copyright Historic New Orleans Collection
Henry Roeland Byrd, better known as "Professor Longhair," performs at Jazz Fest 1977. Photo by Michael P. Smith from Pelican Publishing's Jazz Fest Memories.
Smith and his camera were fixtures at Jazz Fest, so much so that writer Chris Waddington commented in a 1995 story that Smith had become “the subject of good-natured jokes from fellow photographers who claim that they can't take a picture at the Jazz and Heritage Festival without getting the back of Smith's head in the frame.”
Writer Doug MacCash shared a similar sentiment, in a 1999 review of a Smith photo retrospective.
“He's always there, in fact, at every big R&B concert you can remember, going back to the early '70s. And you've seen him elsewhere around town, too: at the costume contests on Mardi Gras, on Super Sunday at Bayou St. John when the Mardi Gras Indians gather, and at any jazz funeral you ever saw pass by. He's everywhere. He's Michael P. Smith… a self-styled urban anthropologist.”
Work nationally recognized
In 2007, the Historic New Orleans Collection purchased Smith’s vast collection of photographs. Over the years, his work was exhibited locally and nationally with major exhibitions. A partial list on his web site ( www.michaelpsmithphotography.com) lists shows at the at the Museum of American History (Smithsonian Institution), the International Center for Photography in New York and the LeRoy Neiman Gallery at Columbia University, as well as the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans.
Smith, who earned two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, has his photographs in the permanent collections of the Bibliotheque National in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Smithsonian Institution. Locally, his work is included in the holdings of the Historic New Orleans Collection, the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, and the Louisiana State Museum.
His work earned him accolades from local and national arts organizations, including a lifetime achievement award from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, a Mayor’s Arts Award, and the Clarence John Laughlin Lifetime Achievement Award from the New Orleans/Gulf South chapter of the American Society of Media Photographers. In 2005, he received the Delgado Society Award from the New Orleans Museum of Art. He was the first photographer to be so honored.
Smith is survived by his partner of more than 30 years, Karen Snyder, a local writer, producer and documentary filmmaker; as well as two daughters. In recent years, Smith’s daughter, Leslie Blackshear Smith, worked to preserve his legacy as the city’s preeminent documentary photographer.
A memorial celebration is planned but no details have been finalized.
jdbs2 - 9/29/2008 at 04:49 PM
SMITH Michael Proctor Smith passed away at his home in New Orleans on Friday, September twenty-six after a long illness. Smith was a New Orleans native and award-winning professional freelance photographer. His special interest for nearly 40 years has been the music, culture and folklife of New Orleans and Louisiana. He is well known for documenting New Orleans social club parades and jazz funerals, neighborhood Mardi Gras traditions, Black Indian Tribes, Spiritual Church ceremonies, and many of the city and state's renowned jazz, blues, rhythm and blues, and gospel musicians. Smith photographed at every New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival since it began in 1970 until his retirement in 2005. He was honored in 2004 with a major grandstand exhibition and photo kiosks placed around the fairgrounds. Smith's photographs are in the permanent collections of the Bibliothèque National in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian Institution and, locally, the Historic New Orleans Collection, the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, and the Louisiana State Museum. Smith's work is represented through five photography books including Spirit World: Pattern in the Expressive Folk Culture of African-American New Orleans; A Joyful Noise: A Celebration of New Orleans Music; New Orleans Jazz Fest: A Pictorial History; Jazz Fest Memories; and Mardi Gras Indians. The latter is a visual and sociological history of the unique masking and musical traditions still alive in New Orleans' older black neighborhoods. In the last few years, Mike Smith has been honored with numerous awards. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities in 2002 and was named Music Photographer of the Year by Offbeat magazine. In 2004 he received a Mayor's Arts Award from the Arts Council of New Orleans and a Clarence John Laughlin Lifetime Achievement Award from the New Orleans/Gulf South chapter of the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP). In 2005 he received the Delgado Society award (New Orleans Museum of Art), the first photographer to be so honored. Through Center Austria at the University of New Orleans, working in collaboration with the Salzburger Museum Carolina Augusteum in Austria, a 40 image exhibition of his work and accompanying catalogue (Before the Storm: The Soul of New Orleans) began touring in Europe in the fall of 2006. Michael P. Smith photographs grace the covers of many CDs and record albums; illustrate numerous books and magazine articles published in America and Europe; and are in continual demand for documentary films produced at home and abroad. He has received two Photographer's Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and his prints have toured worldwide through the United States Information Agency (USIA) and the Louisiana State Museum. Professionally, he was a location assignment photographer for Black Star, the noted New York booking agency, for over 20 years. He is survived by his partner, Karen Louise Snyder, his brother, Joseph Byrd Hatchitt Smith, two daughters; Jan Lamberton Smith and Leslie Blackshear Smith and three grandchildren; Chance King Doyle, Leslie Elizabeth Doyle and Francis Brandon Arant. A memorial celebration of his life and work is being planned and will be announced when details are finalized. Smith was one of the original founders of the famed Tipitina's nightclub. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in his name to the Tipitina's Foundation.
Thanks Michael for covering the ABB and many others. Rest in peace.