Monday, February 15, 2010

Remembering a really cool guy I once met

I called a friend today and learned she was in New Orleans. Upon hearing that she was there ahead of Mardi Gras and that she would be in the French Quarter for the bulk of the week, I told her about someone I wanted her to look up, once I verified the location of his store and whether it and he were still in existence.

Unfortunately, a quick internet search revealed that Johnny Donnels passed away last year and his photography gallery, which was at 634 St. Peter Street, is now closed.

Though this wasn't all that surprising, given that Johnny was already over 80 when I met him at his gallery in October 2007, it still is saddening (especially in reading how he died, via a heart attack following surgery due to a freak accident). For although I only met him once--actually twice, on two visits to his store on my one & only trip to NO--he is someone I still remember and likely won't soon forget.

While I very much enjoyed my trip to New Orleans and hold memories both great and grim of seeing the city two years after Katrina, the most enjoyable and memorable aspect was the time I spent exploring Johnny Donnels' photography, buying a picture from him and having friendly & fascinating conversations.

Although it was just one small facet of a man who lived 84 years and was quite an artist himself--beyond his photography, he was also an accomplished painter--I was quite intrigued to hear Donnels speak of his friendship with Tennessee Williams, who in 1946 lived in the building next door to Donnels' gallery--in the same place for over 60 years--and wrote A Streetcar Named Desire while living on the top floor of main building in the photo below. Donnels' gallery is at the bottom right.

While his photographs were phenomenal in their own right--you can still see a bunch at conjunction with our enjoyable conversation, I couldn't help but to buy a picture from Johnny and wish I could afford more. The one I bought, hand signed and titled "Morning," was shot--if my memory serves correctly--in the apartment that was once Williams.' I think that's made me decide to buy that one--shown just below--rather than the other one I also loved, underneath.

I'd like to return to New Orleans one day and was hoping another visit with Johnny was in the cards. For even more so than the frat party scene on Bourbon Street or all the overpriced art galleries on Royal, Johnny seemed to capture the real spirit of New Orleans--or at least the French Quarter--and not just through his lens. I'm certain that my friend would have loved to meet him and I'm sorry she won't get the chance. For I'll long treasure the fact that I did.

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