An Interview With Photographer/Writer Leigh Downey



Leigh Downey is a photographer and writer who lives in New Orleans; here is a link to her website:

Q:  What made you interested in being a photographer?

A: I originally wanted to learn photography to enhance my visual art, and that is still my focus. I do abstract, expressionistic, and collage work with layers, sculpting media, found objects, etc. and photographs are integral to the mix. Subsequently because I live in New Orleans, which has a substantial film industry presence, I get requests for headshots and modeling shots. I worked as a set photographer for a while.
Q:  What is your latest photography project?

A: I’m working on a series of books featuring my original photographs. The first will be out in a month.
Q:  What do you hope to express though your work?

A: Color, form, texture, and composition are important to me as an artist and inform my photography, as well.   I’m not really trying to express anything. When I take a shot, I’m in the moment. Later, when I get to my computer, it’s like Christmas and opening up presents to see what I’ve got. My work is synchronicity.

I do art for myself and if someone else likes it, that’s awesome!

Q:  Who are some of your favorite photographers?

Alessandro Rocchi has a great eye for nuance and depth in facial expressions and unplanned events.  I also like Martin Amis’ stylistic beauty of the everyday, the mundane.  Richard Avedon’s iconic fashion photography is amazing. Michael David Adams is a brilliant fashion photographer. I adore the purity, starkness, and precision of his work.  Ansel Adams is a longtime fave because his work was seminal and so influential. Annie Liebowitz’ candid portraiture has inspired many. (Martin Amis)  (Alessandro Rocchi) (Michael David Adams)
Q:  Who do you think are the most overrated photographers?

The photographers that I think are overrated are the ones that don’t resonate with me.

All art is subjective, including photography. Some photographers are better technicians and some have more soul. Some have both and some have neither.
Q:  Why do you think so many great writers have come from the south?

The south is a twisted place. There is a sub-context of angst, pain, guilt, and resentment lingering from slavery debacle 200 years ago. On the surface, southern society looks nice and tidy, divided up into neat little demographic squares divided by railroad tracks. (New Orleans is a bit of an exception.) Underneath the surface is a roiling mass of love, hate, DNA secrets, and denial.  Just like Fifty Shades of Gray, there are fifty shades between “black” and “white” but no one wants to talk about it. For some reason, southerners also have lots of skeletons in the closet that make for good writing fodder like the crazy aunt in the attic or the criminal cousin that the family disowned. They like to hide things—and people.

People just write out their pain and experience. There are a lot of secrets in the south. Lots of secrets and ghosts.

Q:  Who are some of your literary influences?

Zora Neal Hurston’s Moses, Man of the Mountain and Their Eyes Were Watching God have has influenced my writing on several levels—technically, spiritually, politically. Her writing is visceral. Hurston has ties to New Orleans via her voudo initiation. I’ve met people who remember her. Truman Capote and Flannery O’Connor are similar to each other in that they expose the weird underbelly of genteel southern façade, though O’Connor leans toward the grotesque. I’m quite fond of them.  I’m currently reading House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski and I like his creative use of the page!

The Bhagavad Gita, Rumi, and Dr. Sue Walker have influenced my poetry. Sharon Olds and Mary Oliver are two poets whose work I admire.
Q:  What do you like about New Orleans?

A: I love drinking wine with friends on my balcony in the Garden District and hearing the streetcar rumble and live music on St. Charles, the steamboat horn blow on the Mississippi, and the train whistle, while the breeze blows nag champa out the French doors into the oak trees and street. It’s happy and mystical at the same time. Nothing sweeter.

I like Magazine and Frenchman Streets and movie sets all over town. I love the architecture, the diversity, the blues, the funk, the hip hop, the jazz. I love that the city never sleeps. I love F&F Candle Shop, the second line parades, Saints football, Willie Mae’s chicken in the 7th ward, and Commander’s Palace. I like the sanctioned anarchy that goes on like pop-up street parties on St. Claude. I like the dark side and the seediness. I like the palm trees and the Caribbean feel that creeps up on summer nights. There is no place on earth like New Orleans.

I’ve seen a bumper sticker that sums it up: “New Orleans: We’re all here, because we’re not all there.” You either love it or you hate it. If you love it, you might be a little bit crazy.

Q:  What don’t you like about it?

A: I don’t like the smell of vomit and urine in the French Quarter on Sunday morning and I wish people wouldn’t hurt each other.
Q:  What is the difference between a good headshot and a bad headshot?

A: The photographer.

Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects:)


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