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Remnants of New Orleans

leper colony ruins.jpg
Historic New Orleans Collection
Richard Sexton: Ruin of a leper colony hospital, Caño del Oro, near Cartagena, Colombia, 2010

“While it actually resembles no other city upon the face of the earth,” wrote Lafcadio Hearn of New Orleans, “it owns suggestions of towns in Italy, and in Spain, of cities in England and in Germany, of seaports in the Mediterranean, and of seaports in the tropics.” There’s no better illustration of this than the photographs of Richard Sexton. For four decades Sexton has been playing a transcontinental game of Concentration, pinballing between New Orleans and the cities of the Creole diaspora—Havana, Quito, Cartagena, Cap-Haïtien—documenting resonances in architecture and style. His photographs have now been collected in the gorgeous Creole World: Photographs of New Orleans and the Latin Caribbean Sphere, and are on display this fall in a free exhibition at the Historic New Orleans Collection.

It’s often impossible, at first glance, to match a photograph to its city. Are the aboveground mausoleums, the tombs set in white cubbyholes, the Cementerio San Diego in Quito, or the Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1? The ironwork, pastel colors, storm doors, and canted balconies make the Cap-Haïtien historic center indistinguishable from the denser sections of the French Quarter. The Classical Revival villa on Avenida Manduley in Santiago, Cuba could be swapped with the Italianate villa on Esplanade Street and no one in either city would be able to tell the difference.

As you spend more time with the images, other similarities begin to emerge—in the patterns of mold that blacken the white columns; the neglected ruins of grand public buildings, wrought by earthquakes and hurricanes; the flowering vines that sprout between cracks in the sidewalk, or plume from shattered windows. One striking pairing is composed of portraits of public housing projects, one in the El Chorillo neighborhood of Panama City, the other in New Orleans’s Central City. In both images an industrial apartment complex takes up most of the frame, but in the foreground there stands a lone Creole cottage—a lingering remnant of a historic neighborhood undone by poverty, misrule, and neglect. Sexton’s photographs show that New Orleans is indistinguishable, in many aspects, from the capitals and port cities of Latin America, but the similarities are not always flattering.


Richard Sexton: Street scene on Rue H .jpg
Historic New Orleans Collection
Richard Sexton: Street scene on Rue H at the Place d’Armes, Cap Haitien, Haiti, 2012

Richard Sexton: Three house facades on Esplanade Avenue.jpg
Historic New Orleans Collection
Richard Sexton: Three house facades on Esplanade Avenue, New Orleans, 2012

Richard Sexton: Street scene at twilight.jpg
Historic New Orleans Collection
Richard Sexton: Street scene at twilight, Centro Habana, 2009

Richard Sexton: Street scene near the Marché de Fer.jpg
Historic New Orleans Collection
Richard Sexton: Street scene near the Marché de Fer, Cap Haitien, Haiti; 2012

Saturday night on Bourbon Street, French Quarter; New Orleans; 2013.jpg
Historic New Orleans Collection
Richard Sexton: Saturday night on Bourbon Street, French Quarter, New Orleans, 2013

Richard Sexton: Classical Revival villa on Avenida Manduley.jpg
Historic New Orleans Collection
Richard Sexton: Classical Revival villa on Avenida Manduley, Vista Alegre neighborhood, Santiago, Cuba, 2009

Richard Sexton: Italianate villa .jpg
Historic New Orleans Collection
Richard Sexton: Italianate villa on Esplanade Avenue, New Orleans, 2012

Richard Sexton: Street scene looking toward a housing block .jpg
Historic New Orleans Collection
Richard Sexton: Street scene looking toward a housing block built by the US government, El Chorrillo neighborhood, Panama City, Panama, 2008

Richard Sexton: Street scene looking toward the Guste public housing apartments.jpg
Historic New Orleans Collection
Richard Sexton: Street scene looking toward the Guste public housing apartments, designed by Curtis and Davis Architects in 1964, Central City, New Orleans, 2008

Richard Sexton: Partially demolished building with Edifico FOSCA.jpg
Historic New Orleans Collection
Richard Sexton: Partially demolished building with Edifico FOSCA in the background, Vedado neighborhood, Havana, Cuba, 2009

“Creole World: Photographs of New Orleans and the Latin Caribbean Sphere” is on view at the Historic New Orleans Collection through December 7.