Photographer Frank Relle didn't figure there would be tensions between the US and Russia when he began collecting images a year ago to exhibit in Russia. Then Ukraine happened.
But he's actually pleased with the timing of his new Moscow show, New Orleans in Photographs. The thousand-plus photos are drawing crowds at the Multi-Media Museum/Moscow House of Photography.
Some images were composed by professionals, like Relle. Many more, though, were snapped by New Orleans area residents and shared on social media.
PRI's The World caught up with Relle on opening night. "Between the food, the music, the culture of the city, [New Orleans] is an interesting ambassador to bring to Moscow at this time," he says. "Because the photographs come from social media, a lot of them look like a family album. And a family album looks the same in Russia as it does in the United States."
The gallery walls are set up as colorful grids, with composed photographs by New Orleans pros surrounded by smaller, intimate snapshots from amateurs. The result is a flood of images, as you might experience them scrolling through Facebook or Instagram.
There's a photo of a father and son fishing, followed by a cemetery tomb, then a man drinking a beer in a lake, then cheerleaders at an American football game and a New Orleans brass band. The exhibition asks Russians "Which one do you 'like'?"
"And then you'll see something like a voodoo ceremony in New Orleans, which looks very strange," says Relle. He says the overall effect gives Russians a multi-faceted and nuanced view of the storied American city.
And Relle says creating understanding between the countries is more important now than ever.