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News . Feature Stories . President’s Traveling Scholarship: Amber N. Ford ’16

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March 13, 2024

President’s Traveling Scholarship: Amber N. Ford ’16

Amber N. Ford ’16 made portraits of participants in the Mardi Gras Indians Super Sunday Parade, a tradition that involves multiple Black communities from the New Orleans inner city. Submitted photo.

By Karen Sandstrom ’12

In 2017, Amber Ford’s friend and fellow photographer Teresa Martinez ’14 visited Cleveland. Then together they made the thousand-mile drive to New Orleans.

The city, 300 years old and vibrating with culture and history, was also still struggling to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. When Ford applied for a President’s Traveling Scholarship, she set NOLA as her destination with hopes of learning more about the place and its people and capturing it through her photography. A National Geographic workshop with photojournalist Tyron Turner was part of the draw as well.

“The focus of my work in New Orleans is on portraiture, the landscape in transition, and bringing these images together in a narrative series to uncover the resilience of these people and the land in recovery,” Ford wrote. “This work is a look at ‘home’ and ‘place’ in a region that has suffered enormous loss and yet strives patiently to revive itself, to rebound and thrive again as a cultural Southern Mecca.”

Her path to Mecca began with CIA’s alternative spring break, an annual trip that lets students experience New Orleans while they volunteer on rebuilding projects. She also had connected with Martinez, who lived there and spent time as a volunteer coordinator for a nonprofit that worked in disaster recovery.

During her trip, Ford made digital and film portraits, landscapes and documentary photos.

“The project was one of my first after graduating school,” she says. “I attended the National Geographic workshop, experienced a Mardi Gras Indians Super Sunday Parade and documented a local volunteer group’s efforts to clean and rehab an old schoolhouse that had been out of commission since Hurricane Katrina.”

Among the highlights was attending the Mardi Gras Indians Super Sunday Parade.

“Seeing a tradition remain extremely active, hearing how the suits are handmade, and watching all the beautiful Black folks, old and young, parade the streets with confidence and pride was in itself very powerful,” Ford says. “I saw and experienced an array of emotions and somehow the experience felt sort of spiritual.”

After she returned to Cleveland, Ford exhibited images from the trip online and at Zygote Press and HEDGE Gallery.

Ford now works as a gallery artist and freelance photographer. Her work has been published in The Atlantic, the New York Times and the Washington Post. She received the 2017 Ohio Arts Council’s Individual Excellence Award.

Learn how other CIA alumni used their President’s Traveling Scholarships:

Josh Maxwell ’13
Andres Almy ’20
Chi (Irena) Wong ’20
Alison Alsup ’23

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