New Orleans Cemetery no. 1

New Orleans Cemetery no. 1
Fuji X-E1, 1/240 sec., f/7.1, ISO-200, 18mm, 5 January 2013

This image is from St. Louis Cemetery no. 1 in New Orleans on a mild winter day in January 2013. A lot of people think the above-ground vaults are designed to protect the graves from flooding. More likely, they reflect common traditions of above-ground burial in France, and more widely in the Mediterranean, in Spain and Italy. According to legend, this cemetery has Voodoo queens and pirates buried in it, along with other infamous ne’er-do-well residents of the city from the 18th and 19th centuries.

This is one of my favorite images of 2013. It was the first really good image that I got with my then new Fuji X-E1. I got it in December 2012, but did not get a good chance to take my time and use it until I went to New Orleans early in January 2013 for the American Historical Association convention. I spent Saturday afternoon wandering the downtown area taking pictures. This was the best of the bunch.

I deliberately took the picture askew, so that the vaults and fence angle outward. The images from this angle seemed more alive than ones that were technically more perfect by having proper, perpendicular angles.

The image’s broad range of tones and heavy contrast also were a conscious choice, rendering the scene a bit gloomier than the actual light that afternoon. Again, it seemed more authentic to the feel of the cemetery on a day with low, claustrophobic clouds. To get this effect, I took three bracketed shots and then ran them through an HDR program, Photomatix Pro, starting with a monochrome preset and then tweaking it to give the image a grainy, graphic feel.

I was aware of the telephone/electricity pole in the picture, when I took it. I liked it there, because it looked like a cross. That seemed appropriate for a picture in a cemetery. I did not notice the modern building peeking over the vault that dominates the left side of the image until I looked at it later on the computer. I don’t mind it, though. Both that building and the telephone pole are a reminder of the reality of New Orleans: It’s a modern, industrial city, and long has been defined by its significance as a commercial entrepôt.

Set aside all the stuff that draws tourists—the aura of Voodoo culture and jazz, the bacchanal of Mardi Gras, and the region’s swampy history of slavery and plantation gentility—and this is just a gritty port city, albeit one with great food and booze.

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