Photographer Jonathan Traviesa has made New Orleans his home and subject since the late 1990s, capturing the city with his sensitive, personal, and often whimsical style.
Photographer Jonathan Traviesa documents the social realities of New Orleans in a range of projects that include an epic portrait series of the city’s residents, reportage during Hurricane Katrina, and conceptually based photo-installations emerging out of his experiences during the storm. In his most celebrated and comprehensive body of work, Portraits: Photographs in New Orleans 1998–2009, Traviesa has created a collective picture of New Orleans through a series of portraits taken outside individual’s homes throughout the city. The portfolio, which includes one hundred portraits and one self-portrait, was published by UNO Press in 2009 to coincide with one-person exhibitions at Ogden Museum of Southern Art and The Front, both in New Orleans. The following year, the New Orleans Photo Alliance awarded Traviesa the inaugural Michael P. Smith Documentary Photography Grant.
Jonathan Traviesa was born on March 25, 1976, in San Francisco, California, and was raised in Lakeland, Florida, by his parents, Dan and Beth Traviesa, a neurologist and schoolteacher, respectively. Since 1997, Traviesa has lived in New Orleans, where he received his BA in visual anthropology from the University of New Orleans in 2001. Traviesa has exhibited extensively in New Orleans venues, including the Contemporary Art Center, the Louisiana State Museum at the Cabildo, the New Orleans Museum of Art, and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art.
Traviesa documented New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, at times from the vantage of an inner tube as he floated through the inundated city. A water-level view of a flooded section of Orleans Avenue, framed by Traviesa’s bare legs, wader boots, and inner tube, appears on the cover of the book Katrina Exposed, the catalogue of an exhibition curated by Steven Maklansky at the New Orleans Museum of Art in 2006. In what was declared “the best show of 2005” by the Times-Picayune, Traviesa inserted his Katrina photographs directly into the landscape at the locations where they were taken. Lawn signs reminiscent of political, real-estate, or yard-service advertisements displayed Traviesa’s images of New Orleanians being rescued from an elevated strip of land near Bayou St. John. Traviesa told the New York Times, “I thought having the work in the environment communicated something peaceful and reverent in tribute to the people of the neighborhood but I knew the photographs could get confiscated, stolen or blown over. It was meant to be a temporary gift.”
Traviesa’s most enduring project, however, is his New Orleans portrait series, lucid images of a diverse assembly of cultural producers and bohemians. Like Diane Arbus, Traviesa uses a medium-format camera and black-and-white film, yielding square-format photographs that are both formal and intimate, revealing a collaborative dynamic between photographer and subject. Metropolitan Museum of Art photography curator Jeff L. Rosenheim, who selected Traviesa for the inaugural Michael P. Smith award, wrote that “[Traviesa] allows himself to be a medium through which he and the residents of New Orleans can express their desires, worries, thoughts, and dreams.” Since publishing and exhibiting Portraits, Traviesa has continued the project by picturing a new wave of New Orleanians that includes teachers, volunteers, and Latino immigrant construction workers who participated in the rebuilding of the city after Katrina.