J. Nash Porter

Photo courtesy of Porter’s wife, Joyce

African American, Documentary Photography

J. Nash Porter


J. Nash Porter was an award-winning documentary photographer of African American life in New Orleans, Louisiana, and the African Diaspora. 

J. Nash Porter was born and raised in New Orleans in an uptown neighborhood. After completing high school, he joined the armed forces, served his time, and then moved to California. He attended San Francisco State University, focusing on portraiture and architectural photography, and the University of California at Berkeley, emphasizing commercial, Ansel Adams’ zone system method, and fashion photography. After these studies, he established a studio in the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Area, specializing in portraits and commercial photography. It was after several years of making an annual trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras that he discovered his affinity for cultural documentation. With encouragement from his mentor, Marion J. Porter, an eminent photographer of New Orleans, he embarked on documentary endeavors. 

Porter’s exhibition history began in 1972 with a one-person show at the Rainbow Sign Gallery in Berkeley, California. Among the numerous national and local galleries and museums that have exhibited his award-winning works are the Smithsonian Anacostia Museum and the Ritz Gallery in Washington, D.C.: African American Museum of Life, Culture and History in Dallas, TX; University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee; The New Orleans African America Museum; and the Louisiana State Archives Gallery. His photographic exhibitions encompass an amalgam of African American blues and jazz musicians, and the traditional cultures of people in the American South, West Africa (Sénégambia and Ghana) and the Caribbean. 

Porter’s most prolific work chronicled the tradition of Mardi Gras Indians for almost forty years. His knowledgeable forays into the New Orleans urban environment and his familiarity with local traditions and culture bearers enabled him to capture at close range the true essence and cultural flavor of the annual Mardi Gras ritual. His photo essays on the Indians document the vitality, diversity, and continuity of this indigenous New Orleans experience. 

In his community work, Porter was a true humanitarian, public servant, and mentor. He exhibited his images, gave presentations for students in many schools in Louisiana and Mississippi and gave awards for the best student essays focusing on the tradition. After the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster, he transformed his photographic studio, frame room, and gallery into a temporary evacuation center and housed over twenty-seven men, women, and children.

J. Nash Porter received numerous awards for his documentary work, including the 2007 Proclamation for Shining the Light on Louisiana for 35 Years of Accomplished Photojournalism by Louisiana Lieutenant Governor Mitchell J. Landrieu. His publications include:

“Mardi Gras Indians: Contextual Portraits from an Insider’s View,” Louisiana Cultural Vistas. Fall (2003): pp. 74-78.

New Orleans Black Mardi Gras Indians: Exploring a Community Tradition from an Insider’s View, Smithsonian Anacostia Museum Exhibition booklet (2006).

Joyce Marie Jackson

(coming soon)