Story and Photos by Amaya Cooper Data News Weekly Contributor
The New Orleans African American Museum (NOAAM) is finding new ways to capture Black life and honor historical figures by activating one of their ongoing exhibitions, “First Frame: The Preludial Exhibition to SEEING BLACK.” The museum, located in the historic Tremé neighborhood, invited New Orleans-based Black women photographers to capture visitors through the month of February to pay homage to Nineteenth Century Photographer Florestine Perrault Collins, whom the exhibition celebrates.
“First Frame,” an immersive exhibition that reimagines the studio of Florestine Perrault Collins, a pioneering Black woman photographer from Tremé, from a free family of color. It opens the conversation of capturing and remembering Black people in a sophisticated light. Visitors from all over the city stopped by to get their photos taken in this curated moment of history. They got the chance to be professionally photographed in the Victorian-style gallery filled with 20th-Century-inspired antiques and plush seating – an experience that was one time not attainable for Black folks. The fee is only an additional $5 on top of admission.
What’s even more exciting about this experience, is that it is documented by all Black women – a demographic of artists in the city who have been highly overlooked throughout history. So far, photographers, Christine “Cfreedom” Brown, Delaney George, and Taja Janel have been chosen to capture visitors for this activation.
“This story of Blackness and this story of telling Black expression, in my opinion, is best told through a Black lens,” George said. “I think it’s important for us to not only capture our own people but champion our stories,” she added.
So often Black stories are narrated by those outside of the community who cannot accurately speak about their life experiences. Black women are often stigmatized in society and sharing their stories is a form of empowerment, the photographers said.
“Representation is important,” said Taja Janel, the third photographer booked for the month. “I love that. Just encouraging children and our people to just embrace themselves and love being Black,” Janel added.
Visitors were pictured smiling and laughing with friends and family to capture moments of joy to remember Black legacies. NOAAM’s event provided an accessible opportunity for everyday people to feel like a celebrity for a moment. And the photographers said they were honored to be a part of this seasonal event.
“It’s so fulfilling to see their reactions when they’ve maybe never seen themselves like that,” Janel said. “Maybe they weren’t in the position to hire a photographer or couldn’t get family portraits taken,” she added.
The “NOAAM Presents Photography Fridays” events have sparked community and conversation to uplift Black folks through the merging of contemporary and historic feats within the community. The exhibition “First Frame,” curated by Shana M. Griffin will be on show at the New Orleans African American Museum until June 4, 2023.
“This was such a fun project to bring onto our campus,” said Gift Shop associate, Rachel Carter. “So many people came through the museum with such good energy,” Carter added.