I feel like I'm in a spiritual version of Las Vegas.
This is what I kept saying to my Uber drivers as they took me on my daily rides back and forth from Mid-City to the Garden District.
The streets overflowed with tourists and locals alike. Voodoo and hot sauces and the soft-fabric of summer skirts blew into the wind along the overcrowded streets of the French Quarter. The April air was perfect, easily comparable to the best of Boston summer. Pedestrian's hands clung to their cold, alcoholic drinks, the condensation forming on their palms from the plastic cups that the sugary hurricanes and 'big-ass-beers' (as they were advertised) came in.
I arrived late on a Monday night and although the hour would dictate closing time in Boston, The Crescent City was still full of life. I said out loud, "I can not wait to photograph here."
My week-long stay in the city did not disappoint. Within the first few hours of wondering with my camera, the colorful streets and even more colorful people quickly contributed to this becoming one of my most favorite places to indulge in street photography. I dare to say that it comes in as a close second to spiritually-driven Jerusalem.
I am drawn to faces, to people, to personalities. And in New Orleans, everyone was happy to share. They offered me smiles and conversation and whimsical moments as I strolled the streets. They were open with who they were, flaunting their uniqueness, no matter how obscene or bizarre. They were open with their art and with their sounds; their soulful street music echoed with each of my steps and their food sat heavy in my stomach. They were open with their challenges, including the remaining destruction from Hurricane Katrina and the high statistics of gun violence. I can't speak for the religion of New Orleans as that was not a conversation I had with many, but I can speak for the spirit and oh my was it present. It swept me right in.
My method of transportation in The Big Easy was to walk or to hail an Uber. Uber drivers, and taxi drivers alike, are the key to unlocking insight into a new destination. A few times a day, I would sit next to a stranger, and for ten minutes or so, have their full attention. I asked perhaps too many questions, but rather than feeling intrusive, my curiosity was met with appreciation. I learned a lot about the city through these conversations, gaining insight to life growing up in New Orleans or what it means to move from another southern state to Louisiana. All in all, there were no moments of racial tension or instilled hostility towards the other, with the exception of a short early morning conversation about the removal of statues commemorating Confederate soldiers. This is a topic that is skimmed at most in the north.
This was my first visit to the south and I was coming to take part in a Momenta Workshop, an opportunity that I was awarded through the Lori Minden Tancer Award. I was eager to see this part of my country while working with a local non-profit, Liberty's Kitchen (story coming soon). While packing, I repeatedly said that I felt like I was preparing to visit a foreign country.
The people were warm and welcoming, always open to having their photograph taken. I welcomed conversations with every stranger and did my best to just be a shadow surrounded by the fluorescent lights of the oh-so-popular Bourbon Street. I observed and embraced the energy that surrounded me.
All photographs © Rachael Cerrotti / April 2016