It seems like the coronavirus pandemic has touched just about everything around the globe. So I find it a little odd to write about new photo books because it seems like what they are showing is ancient history. But if anything, these books have taken on new significance. They will serve as reminders of what life was like before all of this happened. And in coming years, they will help record how we will have learned, survived and evolved into the next chapter of life on this planet. This is certainly the case with the work I am sharing with you today.

For almost a decade, photographer Akasha Rabut has been delving into the lives of her fellow New Orleanians, creating images that pay homage to the city’s vitality. The results of that effort have come together in her first book, “Death Magick Abundance” (Anthology Editions, 2020). The images are enhanced by oral histories told to the New Orleans Neighborhood Story Project, a nonprofit collaborative anthropological effort.

Rabut introduces us to many of the unique people who make New Orleans one of the most distinctive cities in the United States. Those people include the members of the Caramel Curves, the first all-female black motorcycle club, and the Southern Riderz, urban cowboys who ride through the city’s streets on horseback. Of course, Rabut includes photos that celebrate the fashion, music and style of New Orleans’s famed second lines, people who have joined a parade led by the first line, which includes a brass band — all coming together to form a roving musical block party.

Sade Dumas of the Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition says "we should not return to business as usual" after the coronavirus pandemic. (The Washington Post)

The title of Rabut’s book is related to these second lines. Sam Feather, a fellow New Orleans photographer, writes more about their importance in an essay in the book.

“Second lines are a source of power. In a city where so much is oriented toward outsiders, the parade is not for sale, not advertised, not sponsored by corporations, not accompanied by souvenirs. Despite very tight budgets, you will see some of the most creative dressing in the world at the second line. It’s a stage and a dance club and a neighborhood block party all walking by in the afternoon. It’s a tiny economy.”

Through her collaborations with the many people who make New Orleans unique, Rabut has created a moving tribute to the city, which has also left its mark on her. As she says in the book:

“Witnessing how the people of New Orleans adorn themselves in a dizzying array of hallucinatory fashion, observing how music and style disseminate from the streets instead of from a supposed elite influencer class, and cultivating friendships with the people who make up the heart of this book — these experiences have forever changed my life.”

Based in New Orleans, Rabut’s work explores multicultural phenomena and traditions rooted in the American South. She holds a BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute, works as an educator and is the founder of the Creative Council, a mentoring program for young people in New Orleans pursuing careers in the arts. You can see more of her work on her website, here.

In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff members and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.

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