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Review: Creole World, photographs by Richard Sexton

D. Eric Bookhardt on the Historic New Orleans Collection’s exhibit of photos from Sexton’s new book



It's a fascinating show based on a truly great book — one of the best ever about this city's architecture. Richard Sexton's Creole World is spectacular not only for the quality of his photographs of antique buildings in this city, the Caribbean and related portions of Latin America, but also for the seamless way those images relate to each other as a kind of architectural family album that reveals common cultural DNA. Culled from the book's more than 200 color photographs, the images in the show are presented so that some of the older structures of the tropical Americas are clustered with some of New Orleans' landmarks and obscure gems to reveal striking cohesion. Those same similarities become almost disorienting on the more intimate pages of the book as scenes that initially look local turn out to be located in places like Havana, Cuba, Cap-Haitien, Haiti, or Cartagena, Colombia.

  Sometimes those views transport us in both time and space. A splendid old neoclassical home with a fine front porch rudely converted into a truck loading dock (pictured) evokes scenes once common in this city before the preservationist revival, but it's actually situated in Santiago, Cuba. Similarly, a street scene in old Havana looks startlingly like a French Quarter vista but with Cubans instead of tourists. With insightful essays by John Lawrence and Jay D. Edwards, the book allows us to look deeply into the soul of this city through its expanded overview of the colors, flora and design commonalities we share with our tropical cousins, affinities that extend to the minutest details of artist studios, living spaces, shops, bars and music clubs. A perfect complement to his landmark tome of two decades ago, New Orleans: Elegance and Decadence, Sexton's Creole World is more than just a reminder of who we are as a city, it's a manifesto celebrating the cultures for whom the art of living is the greatest art of all.

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