One of the many joys of covering New Orleans’ variety arts scene — whether it’s burlesque, drag, circus or sideshow — is running into the photographers who so beautifully capture the ambience of the shows. Burlesque photography in particular almost seems to be in the same kind of renaissance that burlesque itself has been enjoying, and the quality of the work — whether it’s in the mood, the action, the sensuality or the sheer exuberance of it all — has riven to the same kind of art form. (And, possibly, as under-appreciated as burlesque in the same context.)
Their loyalty to their subjects is one of the most fascinating relationships in the cultural scene here; both are masters of their craft and appreciate what they do for the other, but there’s a protectiveness at play here that borders on the spiritual. You don’t post their stuff without crediting them, you don’t mess with the original file, and you make sure you use the photos that make the performers look their best. They’re almost pathologically protective of one another. That reverence shows up in the work.
Some of my favorites while covering the scene include Roy Guste, JonGunnar Gylfrason, Jian Bastille and Michael Egbert, but one photographer in particular always captures my attention: Jason Kruppa. There’s a special kind of sophistication that Kruppa brings to his work that suggests an undeniable versatility and style that makes him a special photographer. (His shot of Trixie Minx for her “Cupid’s Cabaret” show, pictured above, earlier in 2016 was one for the ages.) So special, in fact, that his burlesque and other works are included in the upcoming “Muses & Musicians” exhibition that opens this weekend at the Claire Elizabeth Gallery on Decatur Street in the French Quarter.
The reception runs 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday (May 14). Kruppa’s works will be included with that of Garret Haab, Briana Catarino and Lela Brunet.
The exhibition examines the notion of the muse, something a photographer who shoots burlesque can relate to.
“In ‘Muses & Musicians,’ the viewer is presented with artistic representations of Muses — the personification of the arts and beauty in the female form, alongside those of Musicians — the disseminators of creativity in song,” says the exhibition’s description.
Kruppa’s work isn’t limited to burlesque performers; as the title suggests, he’s found plenty of inspiration in New Orleans as well. Kruppa was kind enough to share his artist’s statement, and some of his works, in this post:
Jason Kruppa is a self-taught, New Orleans-based photographer specializing in portraiture and conceptual photography.A substantial portion of these photos were made with “instant film.” Kruppa uses the unique characteristics of this medium to recall the techniques and effects of early photography.The first series in Kruppa’s portfolio, “Transformations,” explores the transition from what we see in an individual to the person they become before the camera. Images such as “The Traveler” and “The Dreamer” capture that flicker of the imagination when the artist’s subjects become something greater than themselves – archetypes connected to a longer timeline.In his ongoing “NOLA Music Portrait” series, Kruppa reflects on the personalities that contribute to the culture and lifeblood of the city. From quiet moments in the studio to carefully composed on-stage snapshots, Kruppa’s soulful portraits capture the broad range of musicians in New Orleans. Featured artists in the series include jazz luminary Delfeayo Marsalis, “Songbird of New Orleans,” Robin Barnes, Folk and Blues artist Luke Winslow-King, and the “Queen of Rare Groove,” DJ Soul Sister.In addition to his personal portfolio, Kruppa also works in editorial, advertising and curatorial. His work has been featured in publications including: The New York Times, Town & Country, Les InRocktupibles (Paris), Travel & Leisure, EDGE Magazine (NYC), CUE (New Orleans), Scene Magazine (Louisiana), and St. Charles Avenue Magazine. Kruppa served as photo editor on the major biography “LENNON: The Man, The Myth, The Music,” published by Hyperion Press, and curated exhibits for the Louisiana Supreme Court from 2006-2011.
Fellow photographer Dave Rodrigue has watched Jason Kruppa work for a decade, and marvels at his focus on detail in getting the shot right.
“Over the past decade I’ve observed him perfect his lighting technique always with an eye for experimentation,” Rodrigue said. “Jason has some heavy-duty influences, such as (Richard) Avedon and (Robert) Mapplethorpe, and he has been able to use that inspiration to craft his own style. I believe his burlesque work comes from the personal relationships he’s developed with his subjects. He gets to know them as friends and that always lends to creativity.
“The subjects are comfortable,” Rodrigue said. “They trust him.”