Music holds sway in New Orleans. In Faubourg Tremé, a book published in French and English on October 12, Parisian photographer Alexis Pazoumian studies the role of music in the reconstruction of the city ten years after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.
New Orleans has always held a deep attraction for photographers. Lee Friedlander, Bernard Hermann, William Claxton, and George Dureau are just a few examples of those who have spent time in the Caribbean city to document the exuberance and violence of its streets, its parties, and its music. “I thought that depicting the city through the prism of jazz music was clichéd,” says Alexis Pazoumian. “But once I arrived, I realized it was inevitable. Music is everywhere in New Orleans; it accompanies daily life, education, traditions, religion, and death.”
Pazoumian is a member of the Hans Lucas production studio, and landed in New Orleans in August 2015. He spent a total of three months in the city, spread across two trips. The television series Treme about the reconstruction post-Katrina guided the photographer’s work. “I watched an episode in the evening, and the next day I saw people who had appeared in it while walking in the street.” Pazoumian’s travels led him to become friends with trombonist Stephen James Walker, who helped him enter the closed circle of New Orleans musicians. Thanks to Walker, he met Chuck Badie, Fats Domino’s former double bass player, and attended a jazz funeral.
Street Scenes and Portraits of Musicians
Faubourg Tremé is a wandering depiction of the importance of music in different parts of Afro-American life. The adventure opens in the Tremé neighborhood, the birthplace of jazz in the United States and the inspiration for the book’s title. Street scenes and portraits of musicians act as a backdrop for the subsequent variety of colorful, meticulous, silver halide photos. In one section, readers witness a brass band at the private St. Augustine High School preparing for the Mardi Gras carnival. In another, a group of jazz players stand in Musicians’ Village, a neighborhood rebuilt by the Habitat for Humanity NGO to encourage musicians who fled Katrina to return to New Orleans.
After the jazz artists, the focus turns to the Native American Indians of Mardi Gras — the renowned Big Chiefs — who continue an ancient New Orleans tradition of paying homage to the region’s native tribes who welcomed fleeing slaves. The photographer then directs his lens to Mount Zion Baptist Church, where he attended the Sunday service for three months. Each chapters has its own digital soundtrack — recordings of gospel songs, Mardi Gras chants, or the brass band at a funeral —, further immersing readers in the atmosphere of the city.
Ten years after Hurricane Katrina, the signs of the flood have disappeared, but the scars are still there. “The people I met were all influenced by the hurricane. They were forced to abandon their homes, mourn the loss of their loved ones, and rebuild their devastated city,” says Pazoumian. “The residents of New Orleans have suffered greatly, but also shown immense strength and bravery. And music has helped the city rebuild itself.”
“Faubourg Tremé” by Alexis Pazoumian. André Frère Editions, 120 pages. In French and English. Available online on October 12, and in bookstores on November 10. 37 euros.