September 2012


Ashton O’Dwyer

Artist Statement

It was the human factor initially that led Baton Rouge based photographer Thomas Neff into the maelstrom that became New Orleans after Katrina hit. As a volunteer in the city during the first week following the great deluge, he saw first hand, not only confusion and suffering, but the persistence and strength of the people who stayed behind. These “hold-outs” as they would later be referred to, became a compelling muse for Neff, as he spent forty five days interviewing and photographing these individuals with his 5×7 inch view camera.

During a time when so many felt isolated and abandoned, these people also needed a sensitive ear; someone who would listen to their stories as well as help them with their immediate needs. This relationship resulted in Neff capturing not only remarkable photographic images, but within the sensitive commentaries that accompany each, we see a more personal and unique perspective on the people that make up this extraordinary city.

These images and their stories evoke in the people who see them a deep spiritual connection that runs the gamut of emotion, from contemplation to humor, to tears, as they often see within these portraits a piece of their inner self.

Neff’s willingness and drive to get down in the trenches with these strong defiant individuals enabled him to produce a body of work that contributes significantly to understanding the social, economic, cultural and environmental impacts that continue to deeply affect not only New Orleanians, but our entire nation. This book serves as a testament to these ordinary individuals who, when faced with both a natural and man-made disaster, found within themselves the inner strength to reach out to each other and rebuild their lives and their city.




Thomas Neff, photographer and Professor of Art at Louisiana State University, was born in 1948 in Los Angeles, California. As a child his family moved inland to Riverside, where at age 24, he met and later worked with the photographer Herbert Quick, who had studied with Ansel Adams during the time his teaching methods for the Zone System were refined. Quick also visited with Edward Weston on several occasions during the later part of his life.

At the time of their meeting, Quick served as head photographer for the Photographic Services Department at the University of California, Riverside where, Neff was hired in 1972 as assistant photographer. Thus began an intense learning period for Neff, an apprenticeship if you will, that was to last for five years. Quick taught the young photographer to fill the complex visual needs of the university and, when time permitted, the Zone System and the techniques and philosophies of the great masters he had known. Later that year Neff attended an Ansel Adams workshop in Yosemite Valley.

Upon completion of his studies in art at the same institution, Neff attended graduate school at the University of Colorado, where he earned an MFA degree in 1980. His major professors were Charles Roitz, Gary Metz, and Steve Fitch.

Neff joined the photography faculty of the School of Art at Louisiana State University in 1982. In addition to a full teaching load, Neff has sustained ongoing projects in Colorado and Louisiana, as well as several opportunities to photograph while abroad. On five occasions he has worked in Italy, while serving as faculty for or director of the LSU in Italy program. He has also worked in Ireland, China, and Japan. In each location his working methods remain essentially the same – an interest in the architecture, the landscape and the people – observed via the slow, contemplative approach required of the 5 x 7 inch view camera. Neff also works in the streets with a hand-held camera.

His most recent work is a series of portraits and written narratives of people in New Orleans – citizens who did not evacuate when Hurricane Katrina struck. The University of Missouri Press published this work in 2007, under the title: Holding Out and Hanging On: Surviving Hurricane Katrina.