Through his lens Fest Giant Smith told our story

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NEW ORLEANS(WGNO) - When we consider the iconic images of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, no one stands taller than photographer Michael P. Smith.

"Michael P. Smith the eye of the Jazz Fest. Michael P. Smith was one of the great American culture photographers. He was New Orleans, he was in gospel churches, he was with Mardi Gras Indians, but he was part of the Jazz Fest family," said Quint Davis of Festival Productions.

Neville Brothers at 1978 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. (Photograph by Michael P. Smith © Historic New Orleans Collection)

In fact, Smith was shooting pictures at the very first Jazz Fest in Congo Square, as seen in the rare footage from the Louisiana State Museum.

Over the years, Smith's iconic shots told the story of not only the fest but of our culture to the world.

John Lawrence is the curator of Smith's body of work at the Historic New Orleans Collection (HNOC). He said, "Mike Smith's archive, which represents a life in photography of some 35 or more years, is a tremendous resource for all aspects of late 20th Century New Orleans history."

The HNOC houses over 35 years of work and it's available for all to see.  According to Lawrence, Smith approached the work of documenting our city in a very unique way.

"Mike had this wonderful expression. He called the neighborhoods of New Orleans the 'cultural wetlands' and the churches, the front porches, the clubs, the corner stores, the clubs, the sweatshops. These were the things that provided the nourishment the more public products of music and second line parades, and social aid and pleasure club outings," Lawrence said.

The Historic New Orleans Collection is open Tuesday – Saturday 9:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. at 410 Chartes Street, New Orleans, La.

Prints Smith's work can be purchased at the museum shop, at Jazz Fest, or at

See more of Smith's work in the gallery below:

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