A new book offers a photographic journey through the landscapes and heritage of Pointe Coupee Parish.
Pointe Coupee is a parish that rewards exploration. Whether by driving its country roads, taking to its sinuous waterways by boat, or walking beneath ancient live oaks around its historic houses, Pointe Coupee is one of the few parts of Louisiana where visitors can still find natural vistas teeming with wildlife, in close proximity to notable examples of Creole colonial architecture and the agricultural landscapes that sustained them. It is a place that lives close to its land and close to its history, for which reasons the very treasures visitors come in search of are sometimes hard to find. Unless you have a good guide. A handsome new book by Louisiana photographer Richard Sexton, with text by Randy Harelson and historian Brian Costello, is exactly that. New Roads and Old Rivers: Louisiana’s Historic Pointe Coupee Parish introduces and celebrates the heritage, the nature, the communities, and the agricultural past and present of Pointe Coupee, simultaneously bringing a unique part of the state into sharper focus for resident and visitor alike.
Over the course of sixteen months, New Orleans-based photographer Richard Sexton crisscrossed the parish to capture its many moods and contrasts. Two hundred of his resulting photographs form the backbone of New Roads and Old Rivers, chronicling Pointe Coupee’s renowned and less-well-known landmarks with equal reverence. Lovingly and with an unerring eye for detail, author Randy Harelson’s text introduces the parish’s wealth of historic structures, his carefully researched descriptions adding engaged context to Sexton’s atmospheric photography. Harelson, a former teacher and horticulturalist who has called New Roads’ Old LeJeune House home for six years, worked closely with acknowledged local historian Brian Costello to establish the proper historical context for the project and its subject matter. Harelson explained, “In Pointe Coupee we are very proud that the same families that built these houses still live in them. Look at River Lake: There’s a cane field right to the back door. It’s still lived in by people with children, just like it was three hundred years ago. In the twenty-first century, that kind of authenticity is very rare. So we’re very proud of that history, but it does tend to keep the public from knowing much about the houses here, because there’s not much public access.”
Make no mistake: this is a book for those interested in the historic architecture of Creole Louisiana, that captures the built environment of a largely rural parish with sensitivity and grace. Here is the patinaed glory of the Nicolas Latour House—built in the early seventeen hundreds and restored by preservationists Jack and Pat Holden in 1996. Here is River Lake – one of the earliest large plantations established on False River and among the oldest surviving homes in Louisiana. Much of the impact of Sexton’s interpretation rests in the photographer’s attention to minute details that serve to remind the viewer that the vast and stately plantation home on the page is still, first and foremost, a home. An old tire swing hangs forgotten from a live oak, stilled by the departure of the grown children who once swung from it. A bowl of fresh, local satsumas on a dining table at the Jaques Dupré House reminds us that, after the photo shoot, a family will sit down and have supper here. And just like that, this book becomes more than just a catalog of Pointe Coupee’s architectural record. By capturing the ephemeral, human touches of everyday life, Sexton also illustrates the aspect of the parish’s history which, ultimately, sets it apart. It is a place where people truly inhabit their history.
So Harelson’s and Sexton’s book opens doors. But at the same time it brings the parish’s outdoor life into focus. During sixteen months of photographing Sexton set out to capture Pointe Coupee’s fields, farmland, flora and fauna, centuries-old live oaks, waterways, wildernesses, and industry, too. From northern Chenal and wild Old River, to flocks of pelicans traversing the dawn sky above the Morganza Spillway; to a rare glimpse into operations at Alma—the last complete and operating sugar plantation in Louisiana—the two hundred photographs in New Roads and Old Rivers paint a comprehensive portrait of Pointe Coupee’s many moods, shades and seasons, encouraging a deeper appreciation for Louisiana’s rural past and its ongoing relevance to our present, and future.
New Roads and Old Rivers: Louisiana’s Historic Pointe Coupee Parish 192 pages, 200 color photographs Published by LSU Press, September 2012