New Orleans native Gerard Howard picked up an artistic lean as a college student at Jackson State University.
“As a leftie, art [during childhood] meant construction paper and scissors that wouldn’t work. I hated art,” he said.
But as a member of The Sonic Boom of the South Marching Band, building their first-ever website back in 1997, Howard became a photographer out of necessity. “I didn’t want to use anyone else’s photographs,” he remembered.
Howard noticed comments on the website’s guestbook and realized he had an opportunity. “It came down to those people needing some place to go [for the black college band experience for their own schools].”
And that’s where BlackCollegeBands.com was born, the first-ever site for HBCU bands.
Howard would go to football games on a weekly basis, not for the touchdowns and field goals but for the trumpets and drum beats, and post photos on his website.
With no formal training, Howard said he knew [the band] story and knew there was a certain look and feel the shots should have. He remarked, “No one had ever just captured us like that.” His work was to be “an ESPN-like site” for all things black college band.
These days, he chronicles the Historically Black College and University “marching sport” experience through his still photography and video work on his other sites, marchingsport.com, hbcubands.com, bandhead.org and The Marching Network.
On any given weekend, Howard may be at a Grambling game in Shreveport and the next in Orlando for the Florida Classic.
His videos can be found in the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta, and more recently as part of the “Musical Crossroads” exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (the clip, he said, is “short, but it’s there.”) A new PBS Independent Lens special will also feature a clip.
Photography and video, he explained, are equal passions. Howard is always looking for an interesting “day in the life” feature, like a recent video shoot at the Mississippi State Fair.
But his first love just may be landscape photography.
His first experience beyond band photos was the fall foliage some years ago on campus at Jackson State University where he is employed.
“In fall, the leaves were turning that bright red color they normally do,” he remembered. “They kept calling me and I’d ignore them until one day, I went back and got my lens. I went to the tree, held up [my camera] and explored it. It was not so much about snapping it but looking through the lens and seeing what I saw, exploring… observing. Nature and landscape calls me.”
Howard likes to think of the dichotomy of his photography as “war and peace,” an apt metaphor for the often “battle-like” nature of college band “my sound is better than yours” battles and the serenity of nature.
It also helps his creative spirit stay active. And, as a Fondrenite, he said, that’s not hard to do. “The art community has been really welcoming. My philosophy has been, why limit it to here? It’s helped to grow me from that stand point.”
Howard’s still life works, “The March on the Edmund Pettus Bridge” and “A Walk Under the Bridge” from New Orleans, have been chosen among seventeen other artists for the 2016 Mississippi Invitational Exhibition at the Mississippi Museum of Art, on view fromÂ December 17, 2016 — February 18, 2017. He calls it a “great honor.”
See more of Howard’s work at gerardhoward.com/photography.
Hear him as the bass drummer for Southern Komfort Brass Band (“the only brass bands this side of New Orleans”) and listen for him on WJSU’s Jazz Reflections, Monday-Friday and syndicated on Sirius XM Channel 142 on Fridays.