Born and raised in New Orleans, Frank Relle takes us round his home town in these hauntingly atmospheric nightscapes. Frank uses long exposures and some serious lighting — mounted on stands sometimes three stories high — and works with city authorities to shut down street lights during his shoots.
The resulting photos display a beautiful combination of colours and an eery stillness, captured in a town famous for its bustle and life but most recently known for its suffering and loss. Frank’s latest published work has focussed on nature but the city remains at the heart of his creative output.
Frank explains his work in his own words: “I went to New York to find photography, but lost it in the bright lights and darkrooms. I came home to New Orleans and listened to Bob French’s voice on WWOZ. On meditative nightly drives behind the wheel of my grandmother’s 1986 Lincoln Town Car, I discovered a new way to see.”
“Low to the ground, that wide, old windshield provided the best viewfinder I’ve ever used.. the photographs are lit to capture the mood from that same perspective. The images leave room for the viewers’ interpretations and for a cast of characters to take position in the foreground.”
“The city at night comes alive for me. I imagine stories about the people’s lives inside the homes based on the evidence on the outside. My photographs become a portrait without the person. The night obscures details and the lack of information gives possibility.”
“Each scene becomes like a theatre stage, I can manipulate the mood and atmosphere of the frame by adding different coloured lights, emphasising shadows and highlights. I can’t control the weather at night but I can affect how it feels. They say that one of the jobs of a photographer is to organise the visual chaos of the world. By working at night I’m able to guide the viewer by hiding things in the shadows and focusing the viewer’s attention with the areas I highlight.”
“New Orleans is my home, it is the place I know. Photographing what I know allows me to photograph with deeper understanding and connection to my subjects. I understand the visual language of New Orleans because I was raised on New Orleans history, New Orleans literature, her food, her music and all the pieces of New Orleans culture.”
“My goal for the project before Katrina was to tell the stories of New Orleans people through architectural subjects. My goal for the project after Katrina was to continue to tell the stories of New Orleans people through architectural subjects.”
“The biggest difference was after Katrina many more people were paying attention to the story of New Orleans and how it related to the story of our time.. Katrina gave my photographs recognition, a recognition I desired but it’s always been a strange feeling juxtaposed with all the people and memories she took away.”
“Each photograph is a story. Sometimes the story about me, sometimes it’s a story about someone I knew or someone I just met, sometimes it’s a story about my family, sometimes it’s a fictionalized historical drama about life in the South, mostly the photographs are a visual starting point for the stories in the viewers mind.”
“I am often turning lights on and off during the course of my exposure. The main light is typically on for a few minutes and depending on the shot I will leave extra time for fill lights in the foliage. Often after the subject is lit I turn off all the lights and let the sky continue to expose.”
“Many of the homeowners have become collectors of my work sometimes buying a photograph of their home and often times buying a photograph of a different home. I take this as an expression of appreciation. My experience with homeowners has been surprisingly positive considering sometimes I am making their house look much stranger than it does during the day.”
Frank Relle is a New Orleans-based photographer who practices a technique of lit long exposure architectural photographs specifically about the mood, history and character of New Orleans. He is currently curating an exhibition in Moscow about New Orleans and southeast Louisiana culture. The show is sponsored by the Embassy of the United States and includes the work of over 200 photographers.