Photos of Old New Orleans The images of New Orleans struggling in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina have been painful and disturbing. Life-long New Orleans resident and award-winning photographer Louis Sahuc talks about what's lost -- and how his photos preserve a city's memory.
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Photos of Old New Orleans

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Photos of Old New Orleans

Photos of Old New Orleans

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In the last week, images from New Orleans have been painful and disturbing, especially for one of the most romantic and beautiful of American cities. But along with the news pictures, my DAY TO DAY colleague, Alex Chadwick, recalled the classic work of a well-known New Orleans photographer.


Back in the '40s and '50s, Louis Sahuc's dad used to take him around New Orleans, and even though the boy didn't ever intend to become a working photographer, something powerful from those days must be imprinted in him. He quit a successful career in sales more than 30 years ago to take pictures and soon began to focus on the past of his hometown--black and white images, especially--increasingly difficult to frame in their historical context because money and modernism keep changing things. He worked with preservation groups. When the hurricane was coming last Monday, he was one of those who stayed, until the next day anyway, in the 150-year-old building where he lives and works in the French Quarter.

Mr. LOUIS SAHUC: So I stayed and watched it, and it--from my balcony, and it was an awesome sight to behold, I can assure you of that. And when it was over, basically, we thought we was--you know, we had been saved. It was the flooding that really caused the problem.

CHADWICK: Which started coming in Monday night and on Tuesday you got out.

Mr. SAHUC: Yeah, I had an opportunity to get a ride to Baton Rouge, and I was given about five minutes to pack and I think I took three.

CHADWICK: Did you take pictures of the storm?

Mr. SAHUC: Yeah, I have several pictures of the storm. I didn't take that many, and I took a few of the aftermath. But I really didn't want to do it. It was already too depressing.

CHADWICK: Too depressing. You've spent years capturing images of New Orleans, especially focusing on the timeless older images of the city. What are you thinking about now?

Mr. SAHUC: Well, there's a soul there, you know, that cannot be matched anywhere. New Orleans is almost a separate country in its own way. You know? We are. We're a very different breed of people. We have a different lifestyle than most of America. You know, the whole world--I mean, I know the whole world loves New Orleans because we are unique.

CHADWICK: You were a boy there. This is your hometown.

Mr. SAHUC: This is my hometown.

CHADWICK: Just describe it, if you could, please. Take us on a little walk around New Orleans for people who don't really know what it looks like. Right now, you know, it looks like a swimming pool with a bunch of rooftops dropped in it.

Mr. SAHUC: Oh, you're asking me to bleed now. Well, I live in the French Quarter on Jackson Square. It's an area that was somewhat modeled after Place des Vosges in Paris. It's the--what we call the crown jewel of the city. The Quarter is really a bunch of 19th century buildings. And...

CHADWICK: So these would be two- and three-story buildings.

Mr. SAHUC: Two- and three-story buildings. While it's called the French Quarter, I mean, it--the architecture is more Spanish, you know, courtyards in the middle of the buildings and stuff like that. It's very peaceful and tranquil, and it's a laid-back lifestyle. I mean, we work hard, but we know how to play well. I have one place that I usually go on Fridays where I go for lunch and stay for dinner. So...

CHADWICK: Without ever leaving?

Mr. SAHUC: Without ever leaving. Actually I hold the record. I think I have 12 1/2 hours in there one day.

CHADWICK: Do you ever think about leaving New Orleans?

Mr. SAHUC: Absolutely not. It's even--I mean, most of my friends are even amazed that I got out this time, those that know me well. Sort of like Elvis leaving the building. And it's my home, it's--that's it.

CHADWICK: Well, you're a photographer who has this large body of work on the image of the city, and I just wonder if your image of the city is going to be changed by what's happened here.

Mr. SAHUC: Well, I don't know. I--you know, I mean, I have to go back and see, but I have a feeling that most of what I photographed is in large part still intact. I know, like, in front of my apartment, which had--was this beautiful square that had lots of trees in it, I mean, I know that there's, like, maybe only one or two trees left out of maybe about 20. So things like that will have changed. It won't be as verdant as it once was. But the architecture is still there. And when the people come back, the soul will still be there.

CHADWICK: But changed, maybe. Can you see that in people?

Mr. SAHUC: No. I'm not gonna go there. We're not gonna change. We're gonna still be the crazies that we always are.

CHADWICK: Louis Sahuc, thanks for joining us on DAY TO DAY.

Mr. SAHUC: Thank you for having me.

CHADWICK: Photographer Louis Sahuc, now staying in New York with friends, and the pictures of New Orleans are changing again.

You can find his pictures of the old days, of New Orleans, through DAY TO DAY, at our Web site at

For DAY TO DAY, this is Alex Chadwick.

BRAND: More to come on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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