It would be impossible to do a comprehensive photo essay on New Orleans in only a couple days. There is so much interesting architecture, so much history and street life. On this trip, I only had time to make it to a couple of the cemeteries and also visited the Market Street Power Plant, which is astounding, and which I first happened upon on a trip to New Orleans last year.
Cities of the Dead
The cemeteries in New Orleans are nicknamed 'cities of the dead' because of the elaborate tombs and mausoleums and artwork, all above ground because New Orleans is built in a swamp, much of which is below sea level. The first cemetery in New Orleans was actually not St. Louis No.1, though that is the oldest remaining cemetery. The first was actually called St. Peter Cemetery and from what I've read St. Peter was a below ground cemetery opened in 1721. Needless to say, it was very vulnerable to flooding, a common occurrence in New Orleans. Because the caskets contained air, occasionally when there was flooding they would rise from the ground and float. They also tried to allow air holes in the caskets and weigh them down with rocks, but that apparently didn't fully solve the problem, and body decomposition was slow in those conditions. Over capacity and declared unsanitary, St. Peter's Cemetery was walled, covered in lime and closed to new burials sometime around 1740. There is now housing over the site of St. Peter's Cemetery, though long before all that some of the remains and stones were moved to St. Louis No.1 , which opened in 1789.
The above-ground cemeteries in New Orleans are very reminiscent of the tombs in the famous cemeteries of Paris, though they are different. In the Parisian cemeteries, the remains are actually inin vaults in the floors of the tombs. In many of the tombs in New Orleans, the bodies are first put into the upper portions of the tombs, and pretty much baked by the hot sun, accelerating decomposition. After about a year, the bones are swept into a cavity below the tomb, and the upper portion can be used again. It's very efficient where space is at a premium.
The remains of voodoo priestess, Marie Leveau, are at St. Louis No. 1. There is some historical disagreement over where exactly her remains are in that cemetery, though there seems to be a consensus that they are in the Glapion family crypt, pictured below.
Then there's Nicholas Cage's bizarre tomb which he had build there. I can understand the allure of wanting to ultimately be laid to rest in this historical place. But in this?
St. Louis Cemetery No.1 conjures memories for many of the movie Easy Rider, where there was a particularly decadent scene filmed there. Apparently the diocese hadn't read the script closely when that was approved and it's now very difficult to film anything in there other than for documentary purposes. Here are a few pics from St. Louis.
I also walked around Lafayette Cemetery No.1, which is not quite as old or big as St. Louis Cemetery No.1, but worth a visit. The bonus at Lafayette is that you don't need an escort/tour to walk around. My tour at St. Louis was through the diocese and cost $25, which is no big deal, but our guide, sweet and knowledgable as she was, took far too much time to talk at each tomb she stopped at in the sweltering sun, and I really just wanted to walk around and shoot alone, which isn't permitted there anymore. Over the years there has been vandalism and looting through these cemeteries, so I understand tightening access. Here are some pictures from Lafayette Cemetery No.1.
Market Street Power Plant
The most exciting place I was able to photograph on this trip was the abandoned Market Street Power Plant in the lower Garden District along the Mississippi River, and which looks like the lair of an evil character in an action film, and in fact was used as sets for the films Oblivion, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and Terminator 5, and the shows Into the Bandlands and The Magicians.
The plant was built in 1905 and produced power with coal until 1973, using Mississippi River water to cool its massive engines. In 2015 it was sold to a private developer for 10 Million Dollars. He reportedly intends to develop it for residential and retail use, though I can't fathom what that will cost.
This place is truly haunting both outside and inside. Among the pictures below, see if you can find the picture that has a noose in it hanging from a high rafter. As a good friend said, 'it doesn't look like a prop.' We saw what looked like burned sage in one spot, presumably from a ritual of some kind. Additionally, the inside is extremely dangerous and there are many places where one could fall through the floor several stories down to the flooded lower level. That said, I could spend a lot more time shooting in there, preferably with a guard and an engineer.
Race and Religious
While in New Orleans I attended and officiated a wedding of some dear friends. The wedding was held at a compound called Race and Religious, which is in the lower Garden District near the power plant. The three structures were built in the 1830's and are comprised of a three story Greek Revival row house with its original slave quarters (pictured below in the room with the bed), and a two-story Creole cottage. The bricks were made from Mississippi River clay baked along nearby Tchoupitoulas Street. This place is incredibly beautiful. The current owners, began purchasing and renovating those properties in 1977. It was a nearly thirty-year labor of love. The preservation, renovations, eclectic art, and attention to detail are remarkable. It's like a museum, one that I'd like to live in.
I love New Orleans, and plan to spend a lot more time there. For me, it's by far the most interesting city in the United States. There is so much amazing imagery everywhere, and then there is the art, food, music, spirit, architecture, wrought iron, history and culture. There's nothing like it anywhere, and I'll be back.