New Orleans photographer Syndey Byrd, who had suffered for several years from Altzheimer’s disease, passed away October 2, 2015 at the age of 71. Byrd was a regular photographer at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, at second line parades, and at celebrations throughout the city. She leaves a long legacy of beautiful photography that chronicled New Orleans and Louisiana’s music and culture.
Syndey moved to New Orleans in the 1970s and spent the next 40 years chronicling the music and lifestyle of her adopted city, producing thousands of vivid color slides of the musicians, Mardi Gras Indians, parades, funerals, voodoo rituals, and the culture of New Orleans.
She was born July 3, 1944 in Hattiesburg, Mississippi and earned a degree in art from the University of Mississippi, and later studied under renowned Austrian photographer Ernest Haas. Her photos were used on album covers, in books and calendars, on magazine covers (including OffBeat) and were featured in a special tribute to Syndey at the 2015 Jazz and Heritage Festival in the Grandstand.
A gregarious, generous woman with a big heart, Syndey lived a life as colorful and alive, and often as broke, as many of the legendary local characters she loved to hang out with and photograph. In an interview published in the Mardi Gras Guide, Syndey said, “I try to make people who think they are ordinary feel as if they are truly extraordinary. Everyone has a little bit of magic in them. My job is to bring it out.” —Bear Kamaroff