This is a story about pride, although it started out with guilt.
Photographing New Orleans is easy, and that’s why it’s difficult.
Crooked streets, colorful houses and people on porches. It’s ugliness is one of the most beautiful in its kind.
I have a black box of almost 1kg with a 35mm lens wrapped around my neck. The tool I use to open many invisible doors, but leaves at least as many closed. I wandered around the streets and let me lead by wonder.
I’m a stranger with a camera.
Nobody invited me.
Here I am.
In the beginning of my stay I hardly made any images. Curious, lovesick and determined I absorbed everything New Orleans has to offer.
A place to be handled with care.
I saw a lonely man with a mullet drinking beer outside an abandoned gas station. He made me realise that it’s a privilege to be drawn to rawness as a visual tool.
An afternoon of drinking coffee with loads of sugar, talking, and looking at genealogies and ancestry websites in the Treme Jazz museum taught me that it is a privilege not to care about your heritage.
My camera became heavier and heavier with every book I read, every documentary I watched and every story I heard.
Not making a photo is as important as making one.
But there is a thin line between guilt and pride.
You can hear it in the music, taste it in the food, feel it when dancing. It comes through the cracks in the streets, is written on t-shirts, hidden in the beads tied around the doorknobs.
Would you like to have your portrait taken by a professional photographer?
An open call to the city. And a small personal chapter in a story that is a lot bigger than me.
I printed this question on 150 flyers and spread them around town. It’s how I met Gloria. She told me “In New Orleans you have to talk to people, if you are waiting for the phone call, you’re gonna wait for the rest of your life!” She talked about the joy of getting your taxes done right, about how the renovations at her church were going, about the new houses in the Lafitte area. We ate cake together and she introduced me to the seniors at the community centre where she works.
Somebody told me making a portrait is like a dance. You give and you take.
I danced with Edith, Andre, Diana, Wavine, Mary, Joann, Jackie, Emma, Berenice, and other women of the Treme and Lafitte area. In a self-made photo studio in between two bingo sessions, we talked about pride, love, dishwashing tablets, beauty and thought about why people always want to smile on photos.
You give and you take. I took some pride with me back home.