Holding Out and Hanging On: Surviving Hurricane Katrina- Photographs by Thomas Neff

May 6, 2016
The LSU Student Union Art Gallery is proud to host Holding Out and Hanging On: Surviving Hurricane Katrina- Photographs by Thomas Neff from September 2- September 30, 2015. This powerful and moving exhibit showcasing the resilience of the human spirit in the worst of times is free & open to everyone.
“Thomas Neff’s portraits capture a remarkable mixture of pain, resignation, despair, grit, good humor, and resilience that could have only come from New Orleans.  Of the many images I’ve seen of Katrina and its aftermath these are just about my favorites.”
-John Shelton Reed, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Artist Statement: In 2005, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, I once again heard the calling to become both a photographer and writer.  For me, the epiphany to photograph “holdouts” came on the first day of a search and rescue operation while assisting with the evacuation of New Orleanians who either chose to stay or could not evacuate prior to the onset of Katrina.  This endeavor proved to be a catalyst which developed into both a project and a mission that would be the high point in my career.

As I began meeting more people who had stayed behind, I felt compelled to photograph them, and as I listened to their stories, written narratives began to flow.  In 2006, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art mounted an exhibition of this body of work.  The University of Missouri Press published the portraits and narratives in a book titled, Holding Out and Hanging On: Surviving Hurricane Katrina. Throughout the post-Katrina years, I have returned to visit with many of the folks who shared their lives with me.   In varying degrees, many have successfully brought some semblance of order back into their lives.  Even my perpetually homeless friend, Tommie Elton Mabry, who wrote a journal on the walls of a project apartment, found a permanent home before his death in 2013.  Conversely, at least sixteen other people pictured in the book have died, three of them meeting their death through violence.
I am consistently drawn to people who are at “home” engaging in the circumstances of their lives.  Though I am often a stranger to them, I try to develop a connection drawing on our mutual experiences and this feeling of kinship gives me an opportunity to use them as a subject.  Their curiosity is also piqued when they see my head go under a dark cloth to set the composition on the ground glass.  Once the lens is closed, and a film holder inserted; I stand next to the camera quietly conversing with the subject to put them at ease. When the moment comes that seems inexplicably right,  I release the shutter with the hope that I have captured  their pure imagery, one that encompasses all that we hold dear; a chance to capture this one brief moment in our lives.
About Thomas Neff: Thomas Neff was born in Los Angeles, California in 1948.  He studied at the University of California at Riverside and earned his Masters of Fine Art degree at the University of Colorado in 1980.  Since 1982, he has been on the faculty of the School of Art at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Neff is the recipient of grants from the NEA and the Louisiana Division of the Arts, and his images are housed in the permanent collections of the California Museum of Photography, the Houston Museum of Modern Art, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, the Louisiana State Museum, the LSU Museum of Art, the H.S. Ransom Research Center at the University of Texas (Austin), the Spencer Museum, and in numerous college, university, and private collections.
Neff retired from his teaching duties at LSU School of Art this past May, 2015.  He and his wife, Sharon, plan to travel and continue his work photographing landscapes, architecture and people.
For more information on Thomas Neff visit:
About the Union Art Gallery: The Gallery is located in the LSU Student Union, on the second floor, across the center lobby from the Tiger Lair Food Court, next to the Information Center. The gallery is open Monday- Friday 9:00 a.m.- 4:30 p.m.  The gallery is free and open to the public.  Parking for the Union Art Gallery is available at Union Square in the parking garage behind Barnes and Noble.
More information about this exhibit is available at as.lsu.edu/thomasneff