It’s no longer the King of Cotton or the same fertile delta , because now Oil is King is the state mantra. I don’t know the statistics on the cancer rate in this beautiful area along River Road, but when you see an oil refinery, next to a sugar or rice plantation, it does give one more than a pause of what is going into the food supply. In certain areas as you drive from New Orleans up River Road you can almost forget that the Industrial Revolution controlled the area or that the oil industry dominates the area now. Evergreen Plantation is now owned by the heiress to Standard Oil, but at least she restored and preserved it. The oil refineries are the new Plantation…. this is the new South.
One can gain a sense just how important the Mississippi River is and all that comes down it, to supply the world with its products, when you take this drive up to Baton Rouge on River Road. You see all the industries interwoven with beautiful plantations, oil refineries, and grain shafts leading to barges. Its a shame you can’t walk on the levees and look at the River anymore, but protection from floods as they are now is the trade off.
Driving around there for the most part felt like time had come to a standstill. I became lost in the rich layers of history. It is still lush and the sugar cane was high and swaying in the breeze. Its far from perfect, but it is real, and it has retained its unique culture, which is as rich as its fertile soil.
Oak Alley is down the road from Laura Plantation in Vacherie. The levees are right across from the plantation, right on the Mississippi River. The area is steeped in such amazing history, both good and bad, I love the live oaks in Vacherie, they are romantic in the lazy way they drape and the colors on River Road are so rich,and fertile. I did not know what to expect with all that has gone on there environmentally. The grass and trees are the color of lime sherbet. You may wonder why I photographed Louisiana in black and white or sepia instead of color, I like to see beyond the color so that I could notice the details. I wanted to find a way to show how I first fell in love with this place, from the early photography books in my Father’s library that were in black and white, some from photographer Clarence John Laughlin’s Louisiana, who sought to preserve, in his own way, the architectural history of Louisiana. He has been my major influence and I flet inspired to to go there and record what I could.
I hope this blog has given you a glimpse of how magical and charming Louisiana is. I haven’t even begin to cover all there is to tell you about this place, but I have found my point of view in this discovery, and it is interesting to see how one little thing leads you to completely different direction. I have a crush on Louisiana,; it is a special place and although this blog was a project for a Public History Program, I will be continuing the project, I will be returning there in the near future for more photographs and more conversations with people there.
I actually planned to do the Louisiana photography tour thirty years ago when I got my first 35mm. camera, but life took me elsewhere until last year. Going back down to New Orleans this time took me back full circle, where I started, like a bookmark. I have always had a desire to record Southern Culture,to grab hold of it one more time before it disappears and became like everything else, homogenized. Just looking at what happened when the tornado destroyed Toscaloosa, Alabama, makes me feel the urgency as I did after Hurricane Katrina.
Clarence John Laughlin in the 1940’s would often refer to places that caught on fire or would have some disaster and be lost to us forever, leaving only the ruins to remember it by. My clock is ticking…….
This is a short video about the effect the oil spill has had on the Gulf by Jon Bowermaster regarding the oil industry. It is effecting River Road now, the effects of the oil industry are clear. We keep pushing it under the rug and allowing this industry to get away with destroying the earth. While photographing all the beauty of Louisiana, I am discovering the reality of what Louisiana people are having to deal with on a daily basis of environmental disasters.
I saw this after I posted the last writing about Laura Plantation and the interesting life it had. But this article about the oil refineries along the Mississippi River brought me back to the 21st century with a jolt. You can view the article here
Images from Laura Plantation website
Laura Plantation is a Creole Plantation in Vacherie, Louisiana. The Creole culture is a blending of three different influences; the French, West African and Native American. It was class and not race that determined social status in Creole Louisiana. Creole Women were very independent and successful as Plantation managers. The Creoles of this time period spoke French and maintained their own separate existence from the White Anglo Protestant. The Plantation was originally owned by Laura’s great great grandfather, Guillaume Duparc, whom was a French Naval officer during the American Revolution and was awarded the land by Thomas Jefferson. Duparc bought more of the surrounding land from the Acadians. It was originally an Indian village of the Colapissa Indians. The Manor House was built-in 1804 in the West Indies style with long porches, both upstairs and down, by highly skilled slave labor from French Senegal These slaves were the main influence for music, cuisine and architecture and lifestyle for the Creole Culture. The Mississippi River is 600 feet from the house, the levies had to be built up to prevent flooding in the 1920’s by the Corps of Engineers under the Hoover administration.
Four generations of the Duparc women ran the plantation after Guillaume Duparc’s death in 1808. When it came into Laura’s hands, she had to sell the plantation during an economic downturn. She married a protestant man from St.Louis where she lived out her life, she had become an American housewife. She had sold the plantation to an Alsatian family, the Waguespack’s and stipulated in the sale that the name of the plantation had to remain, The Laura Plantation. The Waguespack’s kept it as a sugar plantation until 1981. Descendants of the slaves from Laura Plantation still live in this area. Laura had written a 5,000 page memoir with all the documentation of the property’s history and it found its way to the current owners through all their efforts and research which led them to find more about the family. They have created a Creole Cultural Center at laura Plantation,that is wonderful and educational with the most entertaining guides who know their Louisiana history well. It is down to 13 acres and 27 buildings on the property, with 1,500 acres of sugar cane growing around it. Br’er Rabbit was written on the property by a visitor who overhead the workers telling the stories to the children in Creole French.
Code Noir was a Creole set of rules to follow with slaveowners.
You had to be Catholic to own slaves.
The slave had to be brought up Catholic.
Sex with a slave was prohibited.
They had to be provided with adequate food, shelter and clothing.
Slaves could not be tortured, but could be punished.
Slaves could chose who they wanted to marry.
If a slave injured a free person he could be executed.
There are many more rules if you look up Code Noir.
The slaves there lived into their 80’s and 90’s, free persons there lived to be over a hundred.
Laura’s grandmother bought 30 teenage girls and had them impregnated so she could have a crop of children on the far. She built 65 cabins for them, now only four are left. I have a feeling she would be really mad if she knew that.
This portrait is behind a mirror and a ceiling cord turns a light on that makes her appear on the wall, but no one, seemed to notice it on the tour. The story behind the portrait is that the young lady in this painting died young, because her parents wanted her to be perfect,but she had a skin condition. They took her to Paris to be treated, the doctors in Paris gave her a series of poisons to clear up the condition, but it killed her instead. They made a death mask of her face, so they could have an exact portrait of her and they brought her back to Vacherie to be buried. The room this portrait was in, was the room where her Mother locked herself in and did not come out for thirty years, until her own death, she suffered such guilt.
The old Metairie Cemetary has an interesting history, but it is also a monumental Social History Museum of New Orleans and its rich past shows off the great wealth it once had. I think it is the most beautiful cemetary in the United States and rivals many European cemeteries. As you walk around there you will find some of the most beautiful sculpture and varied styles of architecture. It began as a racetrack and home of the exclusive Metairie Jockey Club, and it was the most popular racetrack in the country in the 1830’s. Charles T. Howard was refused membership there, as he was considered to be nouvaue riche, owning the first lottery in Louisiana. Howard got his revenge when the Racetrack found themselves in a economic downturn and he bought them and turned the racetrack into a cemetary, supposedly out of spite or so the story goes. You can still see the oval design of the racetrack
Howard died in a horse back accident and is buried there, His mausoleum has a statue of man with his finger to his lips, as if to say shhhh.
More information on the cemetery is here
As I was touring the River Road Plantations of Louisiana, I came upon this unexpected treasure that was not listed anywhere. It was the best surprise of my day.
Palo Alto has six thousands acres of sugar cane still being grown annually. It is a beautiful site. The old slave quarters are dilapidated but still there as a shell. I found this place by accident as I was lost after my visit to Vacherie, which you will read about in my next post, and this discovery was not on the map. I was so taken with the place I wandered around photographing until dark. I felt like I had found a beautiful, but forgotten world surrounded by live oaks and magnolias.
Vachaalo Alto Plantation, whose name means “tall trees,” was once a wedding gift from the wealthy Spanish plantation owner, Oscar Ayraud to his daughter Rosalie. The property was later purchased by Jacob Lemann. Since his purchase in 1865, the plantation has been home to every crop native to Louisiana’s rich soil. The plantation has grown considerably in its 150-year existence to encompass more than 6000 acres of sugarcane, pasture land, wooded land, and ponds.
Since its existence, the lands have been hunted and managed privately by its owners. Today, the lands have been opened to the public for guided hunting on its tradition rich land. The “Log Cabin” lodge was built by Jacob’s great grandson, Arthur Lemann Jr., and was constructed with materials from one of pirate Jean Lafitte’’ hideouts. The lodge is nestled in a pristine oak and cypress grove overlooking picturesque Bayou Tomare. Relics surround the rustic, yet comfortable, log cabin and antiques of the plantation’s past steeped in the bayou culture. The house is not on a plantation tour,unfortunately.
New Orleans has the oldest continuing running operating streetcar in the world. The St Charles runs all down St Charles Avenue and into Carrolton Street and into the border of the French Quarter into Canal Street. It still has the original mahogany seats, brass fittings and exposed ceiling lights. For a buck and a quarter you can take the best tour of New Orleans and get off and walk around where you want. When I took these photograph I was sitting at a sidewalk cafe on Carrolton Street and trying to shoot quickly, but I think the slight blur adds a nice way of showing the streetcars moving. This was also shot at night which I think adds to the romantic feeing of New Orleans.
You can take the tour yourself here for now.
No sooner had I posted the last post about Michael P. Smith, that I received a press release that Debbie Fleming Caffery had received the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, “Michael P. Smith Documentary Photography Award”. I have studied with Debbie at the New Orleans Photography Workshop and she is truly amazing. She has been photographing people in Louisiana for over 30 years, the sugar cane workers, Cajun culture and the aftermath of Katrina. She completed a Fellows project for the Open Society Foundation that George Soros started in 1984 for the Fellows Project, in which she documented the effect of Katrina on the African American community, which can be viewed here.
Congratulations Debbie, no one deserved this award more.
I first heard of Michael P. Smith while researching Clarence John Laughlin Smith, another well known New Orleans photographer. The Mardi Gras Indians were comfortable with him; as well as the musicians and second line members. And it shows in how comfortable people were with him and how he presented them and his vision. He documented many decades of New Orleans history;particularly music, jazz fest,and the culture of second line.
He has many published many books of his work and won many awards. Smith has had many exhibits in museums, such as the Smithsonian and some of the most important photography centers in the US. The New Orleans Historical Collection has acquired all of his negatives, prints papers and his copyright as he is now deceased and plan an exhibit in the future, but no date has been set.
This is a public history blog about Louisiana,its people, its stories, but most of all its rich spirit, that prevaled despite the damage from Katrina. I am approaching this blog as a cultural investigator of Louisiana, the most interesting and magical state in the country. I will show you what I discovered in the French Quarter and the Garden District and about the people there as well as the architecture and the beautiful sugarcane plantations on River Road that still exist. I hope I can help you to see how special this place is and its cultural importance. We can never give up on this unique place, the Louisianan spirit is a strong one and there is much to learn from them. I want to also explore how Hurricane Katrina affected the people there and I will provide links ,videos and interviews of people there and how they have handled this. I do not know where this blog will take us, but I think it will be an adventure.
Cyril Neville Interview. Cyril Neville , is from the famous musical family, the Neville Brothers of New Orleans., He has his own band now, Cyril Neville and the Tribe 13. He is interviewed here in this podcast about the pain he feels about the New Orleans he loved and had to leave. He now makes his home in Austin Texas. In the interview he talks about how for him, the New Orleans culture was losing the feeling of Old New Orleans beginning with re gentrification, which had begun before Katrina. He talks of how in his heart he feels the loss of “home” that he felt for his city of birth, and that to him that it is not “New Orleans” any longer. He discusses the dismay that he felt when people referred to the poverty level that was finally recognized from before the hurricane and the frustration about the attitudes that higher ups in government,and media unfairly dispelled on the people of New Orleans.
Project Gumbo is a project that Neville started in Austin, Texas to help keep that “Old New Orleans feeling” alive and to help other displaced New Orleanians to be able to know they can have ” home” no matter where they are.. The traveling music venue ,Project Gumbo brings the legendary Louisiana culture, no matter where you are. When he writes his music he regards the lyrics as a historical document by showing what old New Orleans was about and about its rich history, both good and bad. . It is his way of keeping alive what he viewed as what was most beautiful about New Orleans. He talks about the Mardi Gras Indians which I will explore more in this blog in future blog posts. I was most struck by his heartfelt expression about the displacement he still feels as do many from New Orleans who have not been able to come home again. Neville said in his dreams he still feels as if he is there.
This is a musician I spotted playing on Royale Street. He looked as if he could have been from 1910 right off the boat from Ellis Island, but instead he was playing on Royale Street in the French Quarter in the fall of 2010. The street musicians are a big part of French Quarter life. They are allowed to set up on Royal Street and play for so many hours a day and put out their hat to collect whatever you wish to donate. There was always a crowd that stopped to listen and help to fill the hat. One finds a pep to their step as you walk around with the music in the background. Royal Street was the best place to see the unexpected and to people watch.