Modern Nostalgia: Photographing Quiet Corners of New Orleans
Armed with nothing but a film camera and a backpack, Vincente Weber recounts how he’s traveled 49 of the 50 states. “I rode on the freight trains across the country and would take pictures of the beautiful landscapes I saw with the camera I got for my high school graduation,” he says. A Milwaukee native, Weber moved to New Orleans, Louisiana at 20 when youthful freedom and a housing opportunity lined up. Now 29, Weber has quit his various odd jobs to photograph and sell his work full time at art markets throughout New Orleans. One of those markets is tucked away from the live music, drunken visitors, and buzz of New Orleans’ famed Frenchmen Street and it’s where I came across Weber’s work.
His photos of plants, landscapes and the french caribbean architecture of New Orleans stood out to me amidst the variety of artistic mediums in the market. As I thumb through the photos, I come across old cars, pink flowers double exposed on buildings, and the shadows of palm trees, all strikingly bright and vivid with greens, aquas, yellows and reds. We manage to chat for an hour before I head back to the never ending party on Frenchmen st., and the corners I had simply walked past before become inspiring to me, as I take out my own camera and start snapping.
Weber’s body of work has evolved over the past 9 years, but his subject matter has mostly remained constant. He started with landscapes in his early work, but has moved to focus mostly on architecture and flowers. “To me it’s curious, it’s calming, and poetic,” he says. “It’s not about the people or the things, but the colors, textures, shadows, and plants. They are things that happen and just are. It’s meditative.” The bright colors and energies of architecture in New Orleans leaves Weber with plenty of subject matter, and he often combines colors and textures with multiple exposure photographs, taking multiple captures on the same negative film.
New Orleans’ French Quarter is breathtaking, with brightly colored stucco walls and ornate wrought iron gates, drawing from a Caribbean, African, and French influence all at once. In one of these double exposures, the bright green blades of a palm tree are vivid against white iron fencing around an upper level porch on a home. The silent stillness of the building is juxtaposed with the palms blowing in the wind.
Weber’s double exposure photographs happened accidentally while photographing landscapes in Alaska, and they inspired him to shoot the same film twice with purpose. He makes sure that the photos don’t clash, and that the objects “find peace by not offsetting one or the other,” he says. His double exposure work garnered attention at the art markets, inspiring him to seek out other mediums to differentiate his work from your run of the mill photograph.
Inspired by his girlfriend, a tapestry weaving artist, Weber decided to try his hand at weaving photos together. He started with smaller photos, expertly slicing them into strips and weaving two images together to make one new “handmade photograph.” These first weavings garnered the attention of market patrons and Weber decided to make more. He says they match his personality, in that “they’re kind of looked past and not attention grabbing from afar, but up close they’re interesting and thought provoking.” Weber has turned his interest in double exposure into a handmade version, combining multiple vivid images together into a masterful, bright, and textural piece. Weber tells me that he is working on the next step in his photo weaving, by creating sculptural pieces with photos printed on clear paper.
Weber’s photos are calming and somewhat haunting, picturing many corners of life in New Orleans without life at all. His images find liveliness in a green pickup truck, a bright green ivy growing on pink stucco, or a single red door made vivid by white brick walls. They are a meditation on the grace of the objects around us. Simple, quiet, and subdued, yet still bright, vivacious, and energetic. New Orleans is characterized by its restlessness, a constant flow of tourists, parties, music, and energy. Vincente Weber has managed to capture the seemingly quiet moments of the city, photographing “things that are still and don’t bother anyone,” he says. This is a welcome change for the many things that do bother people in New Orleans.
Weber calls the eclectic city of New Orleans a “sweet place,” that’s been “incredibly nurturing to me and my work.” But remembers arriving in 2008, just three years after Hurricane Katrina left behind devastation in her wake. Issues of poverty and class came to fruition in the rebuilding of the cultural hub, and Weber remembers the military presence to keep order during his first few years. “There’s a definite clash of the haves and the have nots,” he says. “Real estate speculators have benefitted from rebuilding the city and filling it with tourists.” Plenty of buildings were left abandoned after Katrina, and previous residents are only now coming back to the city they once called home. Through this rebuilding process, many people who lived in New Orleans have come and gone. The community of neighbors has diminished thanks to the growth of short term rentals and air bnb, and poverty stricken neighborhoods that have spread themselves out.
Being an artist in New Orleans is by no means easy. Weber displays his work at multiple art markets every weekend downtown. “I usually work 5 shifts in 4 days, and I obviously need time to recuperate,” he says, “but it’s better than working a dead end job for a drunk boss who’s an asshole.” He’s been showing his photos at the Frenchmen St. market for 3 years since focusing on art full time.
Although he’s made New Orleans his home, Vincente Weber hasn’t put out his traveling spirit. This summer he drove 6,000 miles along country roads with friends through Maine, Vermont, New York, and down south to Tennessee. Five weeks on the road led to 30 rolls of film to develop, so there are more minimalist, meditative photographs to come, finding the bold colors and textures found in NOLA in cities and landscapes all across the country.
Weber likes to think of his work as a focus on beauty to escape negativity. “If we can shake hands with everything and not focus on negative things, then our reality will become positive,” he says. His craft is a distraction from societal problems found all across New Orleans. “Alcohol and drug abuse are rampant, but that’s why I like to focus on flowers.” he says jokingly.
But in a city like New Orleans, nothing goes together better than alcohol, live music, and strikingly beautiful photography.
Check out Vincente Weber’s photos on his instagram: @vincente.weber