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New Orleans is a city rich in tradition, history, and heart. And few knew that better than Harold Baquet.

Harold Baquet was a black photographer and seventh generation New Orleanian who spent much of his career documenting the ordinary lives of the city's African-American communities. Before his death in 2015, Baquet captured the character and resilience of black New Orleanians by photographing everyone from children and families to blue-collar workers and city officials.

He's best known for his work capturing life in the Desire neighborhood, a largely African-American area in the city's upper 9th Ward.


1. At the time of its construction, Desire was one of the largest housing projects in the country.

"Desire Fence," from the "Eyes of Desire" series, between 1985 and 1990. All photographs courtesy of The Historic New Orleans Collection, Harold F. Baquet and Cheron Brylski.

2. It was big, bland, and essentially built to fail.

Built on a landfill-turned-swamp between 1949 and 1956,  Desire was segregated on all sides by canals and railroad tracks. The isolated area was home to 262 buildings and just over 1,800 apartments built with brick veneer and wood to keep costs down.

"Trampoline, Desire Housing Project."

3. By the 1960s, there were close to 13,000 people living on approximately 100 acres.

It housed so many people that two elementary schools were included in the construction of the housing project.

"After School."

4. But decades of unlivable conditions and broken promises led Desire and its residents to an unsurprising fate.

First came wear and tear on the shoddy buildings, followed by Hurricane Betsy and decades of empty promises from the federal government to improve conditions.

As buildings fell apart, crime increased and residents left. Desire was torn down in waves, beginning in 1996 and ending in 2001.

"Eyes of Desire."

In addition to documenting life in housing projects, Baquet captured seemingly ordinary slices of black life in New Orleans.

5. There were sweet haircuts at black-owned barbershops.

"Dix's Barber Shop, 342 S. Rampart St."

6. And fresh new wheels, from gentlemen at the tire shop.

"Tire Service."

7. There were plenty of second line parades, offering the chance to play, dance, and celebrate.

"Second Line."

8. But there were sad days too.

"St. Thomas Drainage."

9. Sobering reminders that few things are ever certain.

"Graveside services for Mayor Ernest N. 'Dutch' Morial," December 28, 1989.

Though life has a few inevitabilities: Time marches on. Kids grow tall. Buildings crumble. Families move away.

But thanks to artists like Harold Baquet, these testimonies are well-preserved.

After his untimely passing in 2015, Baquet's widow donated his massive archive of images to The Historic New Orleans Collection. It's the organization's first complete collection by a black photographer.

The gift ensures Baquet's work and the stories of a community will live on for generations to come.

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