Akasha Rabut’s series on New Orleans parade culture reveals a strong and courageous community
In her debut photo book, Death Magick Abundance, the photographer captures a group of people who have fought their way back from a catastrophe.
- Matt Alagiah
- 23 March 2020
Akasha Rabut’s love affair with New Orleans started, she says, “like a beautiful accident”. Back in 2009, she and her friends visited the city, and immediately made a rash pact to relocate there. While her friends stayed put, Akasha herself did actually end up making the move. “Then,” she says, “I fell in love with someone who is enchanted with New Orleans and inspired me to document what we saw together.”
Akasha holds a BFA in photography from the San Francisco Art Institute and is about to release her first book, Death Magick Abundance, which brings together photos taken between 2010 and 2019 documenting the city of New Orleans. Much of her focus is on the culture of The Second Line, the city’s long and vibrant tradition of parades. As you might expect, the colours and dynamism of Akasha’s images, throughout the series, are mind-blowing.
Hurricane Katrina, the tropical cyclone that ravaged the city in 2005, is a palpable presence throughout the series, even though its effects are often not in the foreground. “I’m most inspired by post-Katrina culture,” says Akasha. “People’s resiliency and ability to continue celebrating their city and heritage.”
Katrina, she explains, was weaponised and used as a mechanism to shut down the public school system and to dispose of public housing. “The people I photograph are the ones who came back to the city with a passion to rebuild, because the infrastructure wasn’t there,” she goes on. “It was the people who brought New Orleans back to life and that’s driven my photography for the past decade.”
She has met countless powerful and strong characters over the past ten years, many of whom have not even ended up in the book. Akasha talks about the dancers, flag team, colour guard and majorettes of the Edna Karr High School marching band. “I followed them around during Mardi Gras season where I’d walk with them for four miles along their parade routes,” she says. “I’d also go to their school practice in the off-season nearly every day. It was such a special and invaluable experience for my book and process because I got behind the scenes access to these local celebrities.”
These shots aren’t even part of the final book, but, Akasha says, “No one nor any entity will ever rob me of this life-altering experience. It was my first taste of the magic that New Orleans has to offer.”
Akasha is only too aware of the paradox of being a photographer – a life-enhancing experience for you isn’t necessarily the same for your subjects. “If you’re going to make work like this, you have to accept that it’s not always going to impact the community positively,” she explains. She has worked hard to make sure that her influence is a positive one. For instance, she launched a non-profit called Creative Council, which awards students money to apply for college by completing the course. “Being able to create something with a whole community of people and forming these relationships is essential to my process,” she says. She also tries to hire these former students as much as possible.
Which brings her on to the subject of her own book, Death Magick Abundance. “The most challenging part of making a book is selling it as a commodity,” she says. “I’m not from New Orleans nor do I want to exploit its people. It was hard figuring out how to make this book and give back, and nourish this community; so, the way I’ve done that is by donating to non-profits here in the city and keeping the book affordable.” This attitude is also visible in the images themselves, which display a warmth and tenderness that clearly stems from Akasha’s respect for and admiration of her subjects.
Candi, 2014 © Akasha Rabut from Death Magick Abundance published by Anthology Editions