The first time I saw this church it was for sale.
The Archdiocese of New Orleans decided to close 33 churches in the years immediately following Hurricane Katrina. They merged the parishes of this church — Saint Francis De Sales — with a neighboring church — The Church of The Holy Ghost. The parishioners were not happy about it. But, the years following the storm were bleak. Many churches of all religious denominations lost big portions of their congregations. Even though the Catholic Church as a whole is wealthy, many local regions are struggling. For all sorts of reasons. I’m not getting into that here. The purpose of these pictures is to tell you a little story. About this particular place.
This church is called a pioneering church. It was built around 1870. It is a city landmark. It is among one of the first churches in the nation to integrate Black-styled gospel music with Catholic ceremonies.
Unfortunately, in 2008 it was closed and eventually put up for sale. I first saw it in about late 2011. It was still for sale. The archdiocese asked too much money for it. However, it came with the main church building, a residence, a former school building and a pretty good-sized piece of land.
Now, four years later, it is abandoned. I suppose that the Catholic Church still owns it. But, they aren’t actively maintaining it. The buildings are locked up tightly. But, this is New Orleans. It hasn’t been tagged. But, it has been broken into. The top picture is evidence of that. There used to be a really nice wrought iron fence around it. Most of that is gone. The neighborhood? Some of it is back. Many of the houses near the church are not. Like the church, many sit abandoned. Some are boarded up. Some are not.
I’d like to photograph the interior of all the buildings. I’ll call the archdiocese for permission. I’m not sneaking in like I do when some buildings are sitting wide open. I want a key. To the locks. All of them.
That said, I’m shifting the focus of Storyteller. I’m going to back away a little from the Mardi Gras culture. Not because I’m worried about what happened on Sunday. Shootings and mass shootings seem to be part and parcel of the times in which we live. I can deal with that. In my way.
Instead, I came to it this way. I was watching a short film called “Everybody Street.” It’s about street photographers. A lot of famous shooters. And, some not so well-known. One of them said that the main reason to document the things that he does is because his subjects won’t always be there. That really struck home.
Even here, in New Orleans, so much is changing rapidly. Gentrification is driving the old residents out. They can’t afford to live in the neighborhoods that they called home for years and years. Even when gentrification is a good thing, it isn’t. During the Katrina Ten Year Anniversary series I wrote about the St. Roch Market. What the neighborhood needed was a real live modern grocery store. What they got was a hipster food court. There’s nothing wrong with a food court, but from that neighborhood almost all the way to the St. Bernard Parish border is a food desert. No modern grocery stores. Just a few old-fashioned food stores.
That’s sort of an aside. But, it’s an example.
There is so much to document. To show coming generations. Yes. Second lines, Mardi Gras Indians and brass bands are a big part of that. But, there are plenty of people who want to document that. You’ve seen my pictures of people taking pictures on the scene. There are more and more photographers coming to the big events every year.
There aren’t so many people who want to poke around on side streets and broken neighborhoods. There aren’t many photographers who want to research the locations and tell their stories in words and in images.
I’ll do it. I’m happy to do it. It’s an honor. And, a pleasure.
The pictures. I looked and around and photographed what I saw. Then I tinkered with the pictures to help you to see what I felt. You should have a point when you are messing around in Photoshop, or OnOne or whatever. My point is to get you there.
And, just so you don’t forget.
My poster. For the gallery show.