J Nash Porter Makes Transition

J Nash Porter Makes Transition


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



The prints in this exhibit, selected from thousands of negatives accumulated over the past 30 years,

reflect his vast experience in portraiture, as the majority of the Mardi Gras images a

re portraits in context. “This type of shooting is not an easy task . . .”



Documentary Photographer J. Nash Porter

 Makes Transition to Join the Ancestors

(27 October 2007)


J. Nash Porter was born 24 May 1942 (died 27 October 2007)  in New Orleans and raised in an Uptown neighborhood surrounded by the sights and sounds of the urban streets. His career combines documentary and commercial photography, and photo-journalism. “Through the lens of my camera, I share with others the exciting tradition that I grew up with. Hopefully, I can ignite a spark of enthusiasm and bring about an awareness in other communities for the New Orleans Mardi Gras Indians,” said Porter.

Formally trained at San Francisco State University and the University of California at Berkeley, Porter has owned and operated a photography studio since 1972. Although his most prolific work is with the New Orleans Mardi Gras Indians, his photographic exhibits encompass an amalgam of African American blues and jazz musicians, and traditional cultures of the American South, West Africa, and the Caribbean. The prints in this exhibit, selected from thousands of negatives accumulated over the past 30 years, reflect his vast experience in portraiture, as the majority of the Mardi Gras images are portraits in context. “This type of shooting is not an easy task, particularly during the revelry of Carnival,” said Porter. “I cannot control lighting, background, movement, and atmosphere — conveniences usually available in studio work. Framing and composition decisions must be made instantly, without delay, in the context of this colorful street theater.

Source: Mardi Gas Indian Exhibit

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Services for J. Nash Porter were held at 10a.m. Friday, November 2nd, at the Greater King David Baptist Church 222 Blount Road in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  Interment will be at the US Military Cemetery at Port Hudson.

In lieu of flowers, a special J. Nash Porter Memorial Fund for Cultural Crossroads, Inc. has been established at the J.P. Morgan Chase Bank.  Contributions may be sent to the bank at 8751 Siegen Lane, Baton Rouge, LA 70810.

A number of persons were interested in sending condolences. Those may be sent to

Dr. Joyce M. Jackson

1324 Brookhollow Lane

Baton Rouge, LA 70810

Plans are being made for a memorial service in New Orleans at this mailing no information is available. 

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Through the lens of my camera, I share with others the exciting tradition that I grew up with. Hopefully, I can ignite a spark of enthusiasm and bring about an awareness in other communities for the New Orleans Mardi Gras Indians.—J. Nash Porter

More than illustrations that express the aesthetics and creative eye of the photographer the images are subjective interpretations of an African American folk tradition in one particular region of Louisiana.—Dr. Joyce M. Jackson

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J. Nash Porter was one of the first individual to present the Mardi Gras Indian Tradition outside of Louisiana more than 35 years ago when he was residing in California. Over the years he has documented the Indian and secondline traditions and has presented his work nationwide including a recent exhibit at the Anacostia Museum of the Smithsonian institution.

We spent a lot of time together on the streets on Mardi Gras day snapping photos.  Nash also had a great collection of shots that he took on his trips to Senegal. 

He and his wife/partner Dr. Joyce Jackson dedicated much of their time to the documentation and presentation of African cultural continuities in Louisiana and the U.S.

Joyce is the anthropologist/ethnomusicologist, one of the tops in her field.  She’s been through a rough few months taking care of him.  Both have a special place in all our hearts because after Katrina, they took people in and provided shelter for their friends (Mona Lisa Saloy was one of those – I know you guys are friends).  To say that we owe them a debt of gratitude is an understatement.  I’ve known Nash since 1991 and, save for when he was out of the country, we talked once or twice a week over those years.  As my wife says, some relatives share blood but some who become more than mere relatives share . . . spirit.—chuck

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For the last thirty-five years tirelessly J. Nash Porter documented the Mardi Gras Indians in their natural setting—the streets and sidewalks of New Orleans while they danced and paraded.  Nash, along with his beloved wife Dr. Joyce Marie Jackson, documented Mardi Gras traditions around the world: Trinidad, the Bahamas, Senegal, and Ghana.

He loved making connections between New Orleans and the African Diaspora, collecting bold images such as his powerful “Door of No Return.” He enjoyed the opportunity for exhibits throughout the state of Louisiana, and his photographs were exhibited most recently at the Smithsonian this spring, at the Anacostia Museum. Joyce trained me in Folklore, and she and Nash put me up after Katrina displaced us. The work and legend of J. Nash Porter will live.—Mona Lisa

Links for more info:

Louisiana Secretary of State/Museums/Old State Capitol-Mardi Gras Indians Exhi

LSU G&A Research Highlights

black indien mardi gras party at

LSU Highlights | Geography & Anthropology | Mardi Gras Indians | LSU Geography

LSU Highlights | Geography & Anthropology | Mardi Gras Indians | LSU Geo07

J. Nash Porter courtesy of Chuck Siler

posted 31 October 2007

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Audio: My Story, My Song (Featuring blues guitarist Walter Wolfman Washington)


He’s The Prettiest

A Tribute To Big Chief Allison “Tootie” Montana’s

50 Years Of Mardi Gras Indian Suiting

 By Kalamu ya Salaam

The Mardi Gras Indians are called folk artists essentially because they are self-taught, non-institution sponsored, seemingly craft-centered artisans. They have been studied but never definitively defined, documented but never successfully duplicated. Do we understand them by focusing on their hand-sewn suits or on their rituals, the skill of a particular chief at sewing, singing, or dancing–can any part be comprehended without some feel for the whole? Indeed, who and what are the Mardi Gras Indians? . . . Louisiana Folk Life    Big Chief Allison Tootie Montana

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I’m a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that it’s anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, I’m proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, “globalized” entity.

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update 2 March 2012




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Related files: Ernest Withers  / Carrie Mae Weems  /  Julian Dimock  / Jerry Taliaferro  / Spring Ulmer   J. Nash Porter  / The Willie Harris Collection  /  Eugene Redmond  

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