My New Orleans- St. Charles Avenue Streetcars
David Spielman: Guest blogger. Assignment: 1 – Streetcars. Location: New Orleans. Equipment: D-Lux 4.
What is it that makes New Orleans magical? We all know the main draws: food, music, architecture and of course the people. But as you start to explore you will break the surface and then the city will really start to open up and grab you. Digging deeper, the food, music, architecture and the people will become even more interesting and inviting.
I am a professional photographer with over 35 years of experience shooting assignments on six of the seven continents. Many of my images have been used by many of the major corporations. My fine art work has been showed around the world and is owned by museums and as well as private collectors.
So my assignment will be to photograph and share with you my views of My New Orleans. Now, of course I could shoot all this with my rather large collection of Leica cameras and lenses, but I wanted to challenge myself. I bought Leica’s D Lux-4 with the 24mm finder that attaches. Wanting to work with one camera that’s small and compact, this made the most sense. Low light, bright lights- we will try it all and see how it all shakes out. I do happen to know how it will turn out. This camera is amazing, and with a little time and lots of practice you will be thrilled and amazed with your results, as I have been. We want to develop our vision, rethink what needs to be shot, find our visual voice and make it heard with strong and compelling images.
First assignment, streetcars…sounds easy. Everyone knows about the streetcars of New Orleans. We might think there aren’t any new images possible. They have been around for so many years, surely thousands, maybe millions of images have been taken of them. So now I have to work a little harder, stretch, think harder and find my vision of them. Edgar Degas said, “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”
The streetcars have two routes: on one line the cars are red and the other the cars are green. A ride any time day or night is an inexpensive and wonderful way to see the city. At a slower Southern pace, lots of photographic possibilities linger inside and out of the cars. It is one of the best ways to slow yourself down to our Southern rhythms and times.
New Orleans is one of the first American cities to have streetcars. They become part of the landscape in 1835 when mules or horses pulled the steel-wheeled carriages. The animals were replaced by steam engines for a while but returned to horses as the steam engines caused accidents and frightened all the other horse drawn carriages and wagons. In 1893 they were electrified and between Canal St. and the resort city of Carrollton. The journey passed through farms and plantations, as not much of the area had been developed.
Today five years after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city there are 22 streetcars in operation. Before Katrina there were over 65 streetcars in operation. Due to the smaller population not as many are needed, but as the city continues to grow, cars will be added to the lines.
All of the repair and TLC for the streetcars takes place at the Carrollton Streetcar Barn, built in 1892. The building works around the clock to keep the lines running. There isn’t a web site to buy parts for these streetcars. So everything is fabricated on site. Each streetcar was custom built, so while they may appear the same at first glance they can be very different in their details and inner workings. Wooden seats with brass handles are made on site. Sheet metal is cut formed and fitted to each car. Metal parts are created, formed and drilled so that the cars are never out of service for very long. The men and women who drive and maintain these historical moving monuments are a real important part of the story. They aren’t just driving a streetcar they are the keepers of the history and tradition of an old world way of getting around. Many are the sons and daughters of those who have worked and cared for the line in years gone by.
On your next visit or your first trip to New Orleans don’t miss the opportunity to ride and experience the St. Charles Avenue Street Car. With windows open, the clanging bell, the clackity, clack of the steel wheels gently rocking you back and forth you will experience a ride that will take you back in time as the same time as giving you a very special view of New Orleans and its premier boulevards.
-David G. SPIELMAN