UC Santa Cruz art professor and photographer Lewis Watts will share photos from both New Orleans and Cuba in New Orleans Suite, an exhibition opening October 3 at the Porter College Sesnon Gallery.

The exhibition will feature images from a new book of the same name that Watts is working on in collaboration with humanities professor Eric Porter, scheduled for publication in 2013 by University of California Press.

New Orleans Suite offers a window into the social life of New Orleans--both before and after Hurricane Katrina.

Watts employs black and white photography to expose the contrast of devastation and humanity at the epicenter of jazz culture in America.

“New Orleans has a patina that reflects history, climate and culture which attracted me long before Katrina altered the landscape,” Watts noted. “There are expressions of culture here that happen nowhere else in the world.”

The exhibition will also showcase some of Watts's new work from Cuba, where he is continuing to focus his photographic research.

“I’ve wanted to do photography in Cuba for many years, and I thought that I should go a couple of years ago after Fidel stepped down, before massive changes occurred,” said Watts. “I found an environment and culture that is at once frozen in time and simultaneously undergoing rapid and constant change.”

Watts noted that he originally thought he’d be attracted to the old buildings in Cuba, but once he was there, it was the people who drew his attention.

“The young people are especially very aware of the outside world,” said Watts. “They are interested in consumer goods that are mostly denied to them and ingenious in ways to express a connection to contemporary culture.”

“There is a strong artistic tradition that is ingrained in the culture,” he added. “It yields breathtaking results. Cuban music in both its traditional and more contemporary forms has a strong influence in jazz and world music. And visual artists have been allowed to prosper in the international art market.”

Watts’ research examines the cultural landscape in rural and urban African American communities. He is co‐author of Harlem of the West, The San Francisco Fillmore Jazz Era, which consists of found photographs and oral histories of an African American community in the Bay Area that was “urban renewed” out of existence in the late 1960s.

Watts’ work is held in the permanent collections of a number of institutions, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the San Jose Museum of Art; the Oakland Museum of California; the Neuberger Museum of Art in New York; and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans.

The October 3 opening begins at 5 p.m. with music and refreshments. At 6:15, MJ's Brass Boppers, a jazz band from San Francisco, will lead a New Orleans-style procession to UCSC’s Digital Arts and Research Center, where Watts will present his talk in Room 108.

Admission is free to all events, and the public is welcome. The exhibition runs through November 21.

For more information, call 831/459-3606 or visit the Sesnon Gallery web site

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