Born in Chicago, Charles Muir Lovell lives and works in New Orleans. He holds an MFA in photography from Central Washington University and a BS in photography from East Texas State University. He began photographing as a young man traveling throughout Europe and South America. He continued his photography practice during his over 20 years as a museum director and curator, a career that took him from the Pacific Northwest to the Southwest and Deep South, everywhere finding distinctive cultures and photography subjects.
Lovell has long been passionate about photographing people within their cultures. Upon moving to New Orleans in 2008, he began documenting the city’s second line parades, social aid and pleasure clubs, and brass bands, capturing and preserving for posterity a unique and vibrant part of Louisiana’s rich cultural heritage. An earlier series based on religious processions in Mexico, El Favor de los Santos, was a Rockefeller Foundation–supported international traveling exhibition and resulted in a book published in 1999 by the University of New Mexico Press, Art and Faith in Mexico.
Lovell’s photographs have been exhibited nationally and internationally, are found in several permanent collections, including the New Orleans Museum of Art and the Historic New Orleans Collection, and can be seen at CharlesLovell.com and on Instagram @charleslovellart. He received the 2020 Michael P. Smith Documentary Photographer of the Year Award from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities.
His work is recognized in Capturing New Orleans: Photographer Charles Lovell in Conversation with Gwen Thompkins, Music Inside Out host, Bright Lights Online conversation with the Louisiana Endowment For The Humanities in the online interview Jan 15, 2021link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MJReBRzHwYc.
Lovell has exhibited his second line photos in numerous solo and group exhibitions, the most recent solo exhibitions being Charles Lovell Photographs, Stony Brook University, New York, 2023; Back When The Good Times Rolled II in 2021 the Second Story Gallery, New Orleans, and The Art of Procession: A Visual History of New Orleans Second Lines, 2019 at the New Orleans Jazz Museum.
Forty of Lovell’s second line photographs were featured in Jeff Rich’s two articles “Eyes on the South” on Jan. 9, 2017 (http://www.oxfordamerican.org/item/1067-the-second-line) and in Oxford American, on Jan. 15, 2019 (https://www.oxfordamerican.org/item/1674-the-second-line-part-two.) In addition, the Historic New Orleans Collection recently added more than 100 of his second line photographs to its permanent collection. His photographs appear in the 2021 exhibition and book, Dancing in the Streets, by Judy Cooper, presented and published by the Historic New Orleans Collection, and Back When The Good Times Rolled: Charles Muir Lovell Photographs published by the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation in 2023.
Lovell has also developed a series of photographs called Language of the Streets he began while an artist-in-residence at the Emily Harvey Foundation in Venice, Italy, in 2006–2007. He returned to Venice for a second residency in 2015 and was scheduled to return in 2021 until coronavirus shut everything down.Statement
As a young man, I traveled through Europe and Latin America with my Nikon, living as one of the family with friends in the countries I visited. That hugely influenced my work, opening my eyes to how other people lived. As a visual artist, I gravitated toward photographing people within their cultures, trying to capture on film something true about their lives. College and grad school took me to small-town Texas and Washington State, and a long museum career, to the Pacific Northwest, Southwest and Deep South; everywhere I found distinctive cultures and compelling photography subjects. While living in New Mexico, I traveled in Mexico photographing Holy Week religious processions, foreshadowing my current and most significant photographic project: documenting and preserving New Orleans’ unique second line parades.
Another series I pursued after working in large-format silver gelatin and color photography for over twenty years, in 2017, during an artist-in-residence program at the Emily Harvey Foundation in Venice, Italy, I began exploring digital photography using a small format-digital camera. Upon return, I learned digital printing and exhibited my Venice work at a solo exhibition at the Taos Center For The Arts, and at The Emily Harvey Archives in Venice< Italy in 2017.