Exhibition at The Historic New Orleans Collection explores
connection between New Orleans and Latin America

by Anita Oubre

Are you Creole? I am asked that question almost weekly.

It is a question I ponder because there are as many definitions to Creole as there are people who claim the name. After visiting this exhibit “Creole World” and reading the book of the same title, I will not hesitate to answer the question anymore. I am Creole. And according to the varied descriptions throughout the exhibit and book so probably are you.

“Creole World” is currently on view at The Historic New Orleans Collection in the Laura Simon Nelson gallery. Creole World takes a look into the Creole heritage and the different ties between New Orleans and the Latin Caribbean. Renowned author and photographer Richard Sexton has just released his 13th book titled by the same name, Creole World which features vivid photography as well as essays. From the exhibit we learn that the city of New Orleans is connected to the many lands across the globe. It also opens up dialogue on the fact that as much as we are different as people, we are much more alike than we could ever imagine.

As part of the exhibit, more than 50 images are on display at the Laura Simon Nelson gallery. The exhibit runs through December 7. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Admission is free. The gallery is located at 400 Chartres Street.

Sexton’s interest in photography started at the age of 20 when he left his home in Georgia to travel throughout Latin America with his college buddies. Ironically the trip started in New Orleans. It was over a 38 year period of travels that Sexton explored the many similarities between New Orleans and Latin America from Haiti, Colombia, Argentina, Cuba and Ecuador. The similarities between these distant lands have been captured in an exquisite photo narrative.

The similarities are found in architecture, the music, food, climate and, of course, the people. The photo essay focuses on historic architecture. Just like in New Orleans many Latin American countries have endured their share of troubles whether it is from hurricanes, earthquakes, war or economic troubles. The results not only affect the people but the layout of the land and its many historic buildings.

Visiting the exhibit were Melissa and Andrew Stern of New York. The couple was drawn to the exhibit because of their curiosity about the Creole connection and Spanish influence on the city. The couple said that they are fascinated with the architecture of New Orleans and wanted to compare the aesthetics of other cities through the exhibit. Mr. Stern said that he is fascinated with places that are damaged by poverty and disaster and that the photos made him reflect on photographer Robert Polidori and his works on Cuba.

We know too well in New Orleans how our city has fared in disasters whether natural or man-made. Many of our buildings are restored and the restorations preserve much of the original architecture and historical significance. The same cannot be said for many of our sister countries due to economic hardships.

The strength of the exhibit lies in the visual playground of the photography. Vivid colors highlight the journey the visitor goes on as he explores the regions afar as well as in their own backyard of New Orleans. And one does not have to travel far to see firsthand the beauty portrayed in this exhibit. All around the city of New Orleans there are the cottages, shotguns, mansions, churches and people that mirror the photographs. After surveying these types of buildings in the exhibit, one can tour the streets of New Orleans and see the similarities. This writer enjoyed guessing which photograph was taken in New Orleans or a foreign land.

Walking through the gallery the viewer might experience a sense of déjà vu, the feeling of knowing the place or having been to one of the places before. Surely, Sexton must have had this feeling when visiting Cuba and photographing a cemetery gate, Cemetario la Reina. According to a recorded interview, Sexton knew he had seen the identical cemetery case before. It took him five months to find it in St. Louis Cemetery No.3 in New Orleans.

The exhibit is showcased in three rooms, and includes two glass cases filled with the “tools” Sexton used in his travels. Included in these glass cases are the actual camera that was used in his first trip to South America, road maps, a 1974 passport and a South American handbook. Also to view is a gallery monitor with a selection of the very first photographs taken by Sexton during his college road trip from New Orleans to Bolivia. These photographs were formative to his works we enjoy today. The walls present more recent works from 2006-2013. All of the photographs are archival prints made in 2013 and are part of the holdings of the Historic New Orleans Collection. The dates are given for the original works.

Some of the most difficult places to photograph are captured in these works. Although Americans do not frequent Cuba because of the US embargo, Sexton was able to photograph there as well as earthquake ravaged Haiti and war torn El Chorillo, Panama.

A tablet computer showcases videos in the streets of Cuba as well as an interview with Sexton where he points out that the exhibit and book are not only about architecture but about people, street life and their environments. Sexton also notes in the video that most of the subjects photographed have no connection beyond their own world. They have no idea of the physical and spiritual connections they have with New Orleans according to Sexton.