By Sean Jewell::
Another Mardi Gras has come and gone. Seeking vicarious thrill, I stumbled upon these images of New Orleans circa 1905, via the New York Public Library digital archive. These post cards, made by Detroit Photographic Co., were made using a Swiss process called photochrom, later called Phostint. The tinted halftone style was a cheaper way to mass produce color images of the black and white negatives by photographers since true color photographs were still very expensive. Detroit Publishing Co. had capitalized on a craze in the US of sending postcards as correspondence, and many of the photographs these were made from came from photographer William Henry Jackson, who joined the company as a partner, and later ran it. Skimming the contents of the library I even found what may be one of the original William Henry Jackson photographs used to make a post card:
What’s really fun about some of these post cards is not only the fact that over 100 years later most of these places can still be seen. Jackson Square looks just about the same. St. Roche and the The Market still stand, and the mighty Mississippi hasn’t aged a bit. The inscriptions are annotated below. Some seemed banal to me at first, as if to reveal that life only stays the same, if you think about it they’re pretty revealing. In the photo of the cemetery the sender talks of mosquitoes, particularly interesting because yellow fever was still a very real problem hundreds of people per year in New Orleans were dying from. One postcard refers to the trolley system, New Orleans had just gotten streetcars. Things like electricity, and Jazz, were new! Another postcard quotes American realist, and creole documentarian, author G.W. Cable, whose southern gothic style might have influenced William Faulkner, and whose essays on racial equality and opposition Jim Crow resulted in his fleeing the violent south 20 years earlier. He mentions the colonial era of the French and Spanish. At this time 1/4 of New Orleans residents spoke French. Of course Mardi Gras is a frequent topic, and has been around longer than Louisiana has been a state, taking place here since 1699.