Monday, May 01, 2006

New Orleans: Elegance and Decadence: The Photographs of Richard Sexton: Narration by Randolph Delehanty

It may seem strange that I am reviewing New Orleans: Elegance and Decadence right after reviewing Material World: A Global Family Portrait, but there are similarities. In the making of both books, people opened up their homes to photographers who wished to show what they owned. In Material World, the point is showing global disparity. In New Orleans: Elegance and Decadence, the point is showing the unique style of decorating in the Crescent City. The deeper similarity is the commitment of the homeowners in both books to reuse and recycle what other more affluent people might discard. Many of the items in the homes of artists, designers, and patrons of the arts in New Orleans were found on curbs, bought at rummage sales, inherited, or salvaged from Mardi Gras floats. In New Orleans there is an almost third world attitude of accepting what you have and taking what you find.

Published in 1993, long before Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans: Elegance and Decadence has five sections, with the interiors of homes being in the third and longest section. The first section is an excellent urban history of the city. I now know much more about how the city grew from the immigration of many peoples and about how the canals and levees work.

The second section shows the architecture of New Orleans. Looking at the colorful photographs, readers see many shotgun houses with slate roofs and iron railings. Some of the scenes with small shops and narrow streets look very European. I see several places I hope to find when I visit New Orleans.

The fourth section shows lush private gardens filled with tropical plants. These gardens are designed for shading residents on steamy summer days.

The book ends with a short section showing Mardi Gras float construction and antique Carnival items.

New Orleans: Elegance and Decadence is no longer in print, but many libraries do still own the attractive book. It is useful reading before a trip to the city.

Sexton, Richard. New Orleans: Elegance and Decadence. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1993. ISBN 0811800741

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