Heart of Louisiana: Cajun Document Exhibit

Updated: Sep. 22, 2020 at 9:45 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Back in the 1970s, two photographers from Chicago discovered Cajun South Louisiana.

They spent months documenting what they found and now their pictures give a unique view of that region just before Cajun surged in popularity.

As you move through this exhibit you get a feeling that you are moving through South Louisiana’s Cajun country during a time long past.

These images were captured nearly 45 years ago by two fine art photographers from Chicago who took a winter break from the cold and their teaching jobs and ended up in Cajun South Louisiana.

“Once we got started, we started seeing the landscape, speaking with the people, hearing their language, eating the food and hearing a little bit of the music. We realized that this was a rich culture that we knew nothing about,” says Douglas Baz.

“Most of the Cajun Country was still intact, relatively that hadn’t quite been invaded by modern culture,” says Charles Traub.

A year later, the two photographers returned for a six-month photo journey across South Louisiana.

“We even took some French lessons. Of course, it was the wrong French, but we did our homework,” says Traub.

As you look through the some of the images, it seems like they touched on virtually every aspect of Cajun life in South Louisiana: The oil industry, fishing, trapping, the food, the dance halls, the music, the family celebrations.

What surprised them the most while going from place to place?

“Everything,” says Baz.

“We ate our way across Louisiana. Yeah. And the food became very much a part of our heart, joy being there,” says Traub.

“The Cajun people were very open and very friendly and not suspicious of us as photographers. And I think that was something that was fast fading,” says Baz.

The Chicago photographers followed suggestions from their new Cajun friends and moved from cities to fishing villages, farms and family celebrations, and they realized they were documenting something very unique.

“I think the way the culture, the people and the culture was so attached to the land where they lived, that it reminded me of America in the 40s.” says Baz.

The Cajun Document is now on display at the Historic New Orleans Collection and curator John Lawrence suggests the timing is critical.

“I think you do see that moment where change is starting to occur,” says Lawrence.

Some images focus on South Louisiana’s swampy landscape or the lost trade of moss harvesting, the tradition of Mardi Gras in Mamou or the excitement in a Cajun dance hall.

“Edwin Broussard at Lapoussiere Dance Hall. It’s a moment of sheer rapture ecstasy. It embodies whatever you might think of as ‘Laissez les bon temps rouler’. That picture embodies it,” Lawrence.

The photographs are a vibrant connection to a unique landscape and its fading Cajun traditions.

The Cajun Document exhibit continues at the Historic New Orleans Collection through mid-January. The French Quarter Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday.

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