Saints Bernard, Claude, and Rampart St. A tale of a quickly changing New Orleans / by Zack Smith

I have always loved the photography of Walker Evans. I am more specifically enamored and the same time perplexed by his very "straight" street photography. You know the ones, very flat, but contrasty straight forward views of homes and businesses. You know, the barbershops, auto repair, and general street life shots? To me they hold a piece of history about the humans who lived, loved, and worked there and they offer our eyes today a sense of place to see how "we" used to live. But the perplexing thing about these historical images is that I have never been inclined to just shoot street view compositions or New Orleans architectural facades...ever. For me there's got to be a story and I find the human story as it's told by the human is far more interesting...until now.

It wasn't until I moved out to St. Bernard Parish that I began driving up and down, up and down the same streets to get into "the city" to do jobs for clients. The City, I mean New Orleans.

From my house, I take St. Bernard Highway, which turns into St. Claude at the Orleans Parish Line, then at Elysian Fields, turns into Rampart St. and on through the French Quarter and beyond. Right around where I live, you got this sign:

Yeah, did you know there was a State Park 'down the road'? 

Yeah, did you know there was a State Park 'down the road'? 

You can literally walk out of Preservation Hall to Rampart Street, go Right (or East) and for the next 6 miles (5.9 to be exact) see first hand how fast and furious New Orleans is changing. By the time you get to the Chalmette Battlefield (see my most recent Gallery here) you will have seen 6 miles of a landscape that won't look anything like it does now in 5 years. You already see it changing, growing, expanding, contracting. And for this reason, I started to see where Walker Evans was right. I having been seeing my 6 mile route into the city change so fast over the last 3 years I decided it was time to put my lens to this evolving story and see for myself how fast things change...and how much they do stay the same.

I have seen the streetcar tracks start laying down to now almost being done. I have seen small shops pop up on St. Claude, bars, too many restaurants to name. I have also seen the corner stores shut down and the mom and pop stores close. I have seen Family Dollar's open up next door to each other and across the street from Dollar Generals as they compete for the lowest price and least healthy options for the people they serve. Vacant lots now hold promise instead of neglect. It's funny how the glass can go half full in the blink of an eye. 

Enjoy my drive from St. Bernard Highway through St. Claude Avenue to Rampart Street