The Booklover's Guide to New Orleans

The Booklover's Guide to New Orleans

by Susan Larson
     
 
The most obvious distinction of many south Louisiana cemeteries is that hardly anyone is buried in them. In the delta, where the Mississippi River meets the Gulf of Mexico, the land is flat, wet, and often below sea level, so coffins are placed in elevated tombs, vaults, and mausoleums. Truly cities of the dead, these cemeteries contain buildings of stone or brick,

Overview

The most obvious distinction of many south Louisiana cemeteries is that hardly anyone is buried in them. In the delta, where the Mississippi River meets the Gulf of Mexico, the land is flat, wet, and often below sea level, so coffins are placed in elevated tombs, vaults, and mausoleums. Truly cities of the dead, these cemeteries contain buildings of stone or brick, marble statues, wrought-iron fences, narrow passages, and hidden enclaves. And, like any city, they are densely packed with bodies.

In sixty-two stunning photographs, William K. Greiner captures the visual landscape of these ghostly neighborhoods. A colorful respite from the gray conventions of graveyard photography, his images leap off the page with brilliant hues. His pictures are not just about graves, but also about the lives and values of the people who inhabit and visit them. Most of his portraits are of humble and inconspicuous burial grounds. Located somewhere between town and country, they exist as geographic testimony to our Comprehension of the graveyard as the transitional space between heaven and earth. In these photographs, there is no great divide; streetlamps and telephone wires intrude into the heavens, supermarkets and mausoleums share parking lots, and religious and secular symbols vie for attention.

Where we expect to find solemn stones, Greiner points to a new lexicon of mourning. Plastic dolls, polyester ribbons, Styrofoam letters, and brilliant bouquets of plastic flowers adorn these graves and fill these photos. In these sepulchral communities, holidays are marked with Valentine hearts, Fourth of July arrangements, and Christmas decorations, and bingo boards and Harley-Davidson models stand assilent reminders of the daily lives the residents once lived.

Not a soul appears in these images, but they are haunted none the less, by the skeletons of flowers, by chipped statuettes, by faded pictures, and by overgrown grass; by the tangible evidence of the passing visits of those who have come to bury or remember their clear departed; by passing clouds, and by the passage of time. In his striking memorials to these memorials, Grein er honors the colorful cast of characters, both alive and dead, whose telling traces he has found left behind.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
A Southerner born and bred, Spencer presents a collection of brooding black-and-white photographs of the South that read as richly as color images. His work--portraits that are clearly stage-directed but pull the viewer in, and landscapes mysteriously shrouded with mist or smoke--are technically proficient and unusual. Some images (like his picture of a headless man holding a glistening fish) are even unforgettable. And most importantly, his out-of-the-ordinary photographic printing technique doesn't overshadow the meaning and power of the images. Greiner, a New Orleans-based photographer, focuses his camera on cemeteries, a common camera subject in Louisiana. He makes uncommon images out of them, however, in large part because he shoots them in color rather than the usual black-and-white. These photos are part-landscape shots, part-portraits. Mixing humor, pathos, and deep respect, he captures the tributes that mourners have paid to the deceased and the traces of life they leave behind: flowers, shrines, framed portraits, colored gravel, plastic flowers, dead arrangements on scarecrow-like wreath-stands, potted plants, religious statuary, and, of course, gravestones of every variety. Both books contain good-quality, lively reproductions, and both are recommended for photographic collections.--Kathleen Collins, Bank of America Corporate Archives, San Francisco Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Weekly Editors Entertainment
Ghoulish? No. These photos reveal Southern graveyards in all their joyful color, flaunting their eclectic adornements—statues, photos, shells, trinkets, even a pink bicycle.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780807124161
Publisher:
Louisiana State University Press
Publication date:
11/28/1999
Pages:
272
Product dimensions:
8.90(w) x 5.50(h) x 0.70(d)

Meet the Author

Susan Larson, book editor of the New Orleans Times-Picayune from 1988 to 2009, now hosts WWNO's public radio program The Reading Life. A founder of the Women's National Book Association of New Orleans and a board member of the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival and the New Orleans Public Library, she continues to support and share New Orleans's literary heritage.

LSU Press

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