Noelle Theard, The Interview: Inside a Photographer’s World
Born in El Paso, Texas to a Haitian father and a French mother, Noelle Theard is a co-founder of FotoKonbit, a photography movement that encourages the use of photography in Haiti in capturing their everyday realities—a sort of photo collective. The organization is named after a harvest potluck tradition in Haiti and therefore emphasizes community involvement as much as it fosters creativity. Individuals from every age group are given a camera, and they go about in their neighborhood, snapping away everyday scenes and candid images. Workshops are given on a regular basis to participants, old and new, to update them in the latest photographic techniques.
Theard’s own photography has seen exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary African Diaspora Arts in Brooklyn, the Mobile Alabama Museum of Art and the McKenna Museum in New Orleans, among other outlets.
Theard says that growing up on the US-Mexico border had a profound impact on her worldview and helped shape her as a person. It has no doubt lent a certain perspective to her photography. Theard, who is also on the teaching staff at Florida International University’s Africa Diaspora Studies department, has had exhibitions in Miami and recently exhibited a series of photographs she took in Mali.
Q & A
Do you remember the first camera you ever owned? Noelle Theard: My first camera was an early 80s model Nikon, which belonged to my maternal grandfather. He was an avid photographer. I was fourteen when I started got serious about photography. I took continuing education classes at the community college to learn. Is there an art to photography? Noelle Theard: There is a technical skill and an art to photography. The key is to find your visual voice. The skills can be taught but the art is in the approach to the medium.
With the advent of digital cameras, can just about anybody be a professional photographer? Noelle Theard: Yes, anyone can be a professional photographer, but it takes time and effort. Digital photography can be self-taught more easily than traditional film photography. It is not as simple as just getting a digital camera.
You’re currently working on an MFA degree in photography. What have you learned so far about photography? Noelle Theard: I’ve learned that the medium of photography is flexible and ubiquitous and can be used in many different ways. Many artists are using photography that don’t necessarily consider themselves photographers. I still value traditional photographic practices, especially shooting film. In art school, I have learned to use photography more conceptually. Can photography be taught? Noelle Theard: The skills required to make photographs can be taught. I teach photography to people from all walks of life. My focus on participatory photography projects, including the work I do in Haiti as co-founder of FotoKonbit, reflect my commitment to sharing my knowledge of photography as a tool for social change.
What’s the most breathtaking photo you’ve ever seen? Noelle Theard: There have been many! Maggie Steber’s work from Haiti, published in a book called Dancing on Fire is one of my absolute favorites. I also love the work of Jamel Shabazz, particularly his New York street portraits from the 1980s, published in the books A Time Before Crack and Back in the Days.
What would you say are the elements of a great photograph? Noelle Theard: Emotional resonance is key to any great photo.
Any tips for amateur photographers? Noelle Theard: Learn from the greats, practice your skills, but find your own visual voice! This happens by shooting and reflecting on your work, this moment in history, and your philosophy about life.
What’s next for you? Noelle Theard: I look forward to exhibiting my current work on Mali, teaching in the African Diaspora Studies program and FIU, and continuing my work with FotoKonbit in Haiti.
Did you enjoy this interview with the photographer Noelle Theard? Be sure to visit her website here.