Philly Creative Guide

Guest Columnist

Zave Smith

As Seen in New Orleans
by Zave Smith, 1 Nov 2009

Exuberant and poignant, philosophical and passionate, Zave Smith's photographs capture the tangible pleasures and tactile experiences of life in close-up. Raised and trained in the Midwest, now working out of Philadelphia and New York, Zave has a special feeling for personality that suffuses his work.


New Orleans should be a sad city. It has suffered hurricanes, floods, high unemployment, racial strife and several visits from the Army Corps of Engineers. Yet, it remains New Orleans, a city that daily dons her best Sunday dress sewn of joy, happiness and just plain fun. From the formal balls and parades of Mardi Gras, to the jazz of Bourbon Street and the hole in the wall family restaurants in the neighborhoods, I have witnessed the joys of life triumph over the pain of living.

New Orleans is both one of America's poorest cities and one of our wealthiest. It overflows with good food, great music and spirited people. Yet three plus years after Katrina material damage and urban poverty are still to be found.

This summer I was in New Orleans to photograph the Creole to Soul Food Tour and The Essence Music Festival. In addition I was fortunate to spend a few hours in the Global Green House development in New Orleans's Lower Ninth Ward.

While the French Quarter, Uptown and the Garden District look fine. The Lower Ninth ward still looks like Berlin in 1945. In the Lower Ninth Ward a new type of home is being born. The first of these "Green" homes is finished, two more are almost completed. These homes are amazing. They are beautiful, comfortable, and have achieved the highest rating for being Green. Yet I walked away wondering why only three? Why are there not three hundred or three thousand of these low cost, totally cool new homes? They should be sprouting up like mushrooms in the humid climate of the Lower Ninth Ward. What is keeping New Orleans from thinking big? What is keeping America from doing big?

As Seen in New Orleans

Mardi Gras 2009. After a weeklong orgy of food, music, stories, sore legs and photography I realized that Mardi Gras is not what I expected. I imagined Mardi Gras to be booze and bare breasts with thousands of people behaving badly. I learned that Mardi Gras is a fun celebration that binds family and community together via tradition, stories and the sharing of outrageous fun of the Mardi Gras parades.

One of my favorite memories from my childhood in Detroit was the Thanksgiving Day Christmas parade. Now imagine a city that has not one parade but dozens. Each parade has its unique roots and route. I watched in awe as dozens and dozens of marching bands and floats rode colorfully by. I watched in amazement has thousands of well behaved people lined the streets in the community wide celebration that is Mardi Gras.

History tells us the in late 18 century France the aristocrats paraded around Paris tossing out food to the hungry peasants in honor of Mardi Gras. In New Orleans instead of food it is beads, umbrellas, stuff toys, fake coins and for the lucky few, a painted coconut.

Who knew it could be so much fun to dress up, drive around and throw stuff at people but fun is what Mardi Gras is about. I watched as kids from troubled neighborhoods reached out, screamed, and begged in delight for somebody to toss a bead their way. I saw the same child like joy in the VIP stands with the rich matrons of old money New Orleans.

I love New Orleans. For the last three years I have made ten trips there to photograph the city and the state to help promote tourism. While my journeys there have been commercial in nature I have learned that between the street cars, drunk tourists, amazing musicians, chefs who know how to turn an egg into a taste of heaven, and its three hundred year old homes there lives a collection of ghosts and stories. For the price of a beer and a sincere ear you can hear the most amazing tales. New Orleans is an old oak, with deep roots that brings forth new leafs every year.

Pictures:
Mardi Gras 2009
African American Heritage Trail
Essence Festival and Creole to Soul Tour

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