Cherchez la Femme, A Book of New Orleans Women

I love our wonderful photographers who consistently catch this city’s unique essence. And, though there are many to choose from, I do have some favorites. I can usually pick them out before I’ve even read their photo credits.

If the image resonates with social justice, it was probably shot by Ted Jackson. If it makes me laugh out loud, there’s a good chance it’s Eliot Kamenitz. And if it makes me smile and warms my heart with pure love for this city, it most certainly is an image from the incomparable Cheryl Gerber.

For those that don’t know, Cheryl Gerber is a New Orleans freelance journalist and documentary photographer. She has been a regular contributor to Biz New Orleans magazine, The New York Times, the Associated Press, and New Orleans Magazine and has been a staff photographer for Gambit Weekly since 1994. Gerber has won several awards for her work on social issues and news photography, as well as for her book “New Orleans: Life and Death in the Big Easy.”

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Gerber spent years trying to break into photojournalism. As a last resort, she started writing for various local publications and providing the photographs for her stories. Her hope was that this would be a platform to get her photos seen. One of her first big breaks was a cover story that followed a group of gutter punks in the mid ’90s. The editors at Gambit liked the piece and loved her images.

“It was the turning point in my career,” she says.

Many assignments, images and publications later, Gerber has just released another new book, “Cherchez la Femme: New Orleans Women.”

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“The book is a photographic exploration of how New Orleans women have shaped the city,” says Gerber. “It’s published by the University Press of Mississippi and officially comes out on January 15, but I’m hoping to get 100 copies soon so I can sell them before the holidays.”

The book includes more than 200 photographs of the city’s most well-known women, along with the everyday women who make New Orleans so rich and diverse.

The book is divided into 11 chapters, each celebrating the women who add to the city’s uniqueness, including entertainers, socialites, activists, musicians, chefs, entrepreneurs, spiritual leaders and burlesque artists. It features such women as Leah Chase, Irma Thomas, Mignon Faget and Trixie Minx.

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Also featured are prominent groups of women that have made their mark on the city, such as the Mardi Gras Indians, Baby Dolls and the Krewe of Muses.

“It was inspired by the 2017 Women’s March in Washington, DC,” she says. “But Latoya’s election fueled it too. I also wanted to make note of the many women’s marching krewes and the resurgence of Baby Dolls.”

The book is a collection of both images from her archives and new work.

“It’s pretty much equal — 50 percent comes from old images I already had, and 50 percent were from new shoots I scheduled.”

The book’s forward was written by Anne Gisleson, whose writing has appeared in The Atlantic, and The Los Angeles Times. She also wrote the book, The Futilitarians.

“She’s a longtime friend and one of the best writers I know,” says Gerber.

Alongside Gerber’s photographs are 12 essays written by New Orleans female writers, including Kathy Finn, Katy Reckdahl, Melanie Warner Spencer and Geraldine Wyckoff.

The book has already received glowing reviews.

“It’s hardly surprising that eclectic New Orleans would be home to some of the country’s most colorful, innovative women,” says Cheré Dastugue Coen, author of Exploring Cajun Country: A Tour of Historic Acadiana. “But never before has a collection of this magnitude and creativity been assembled, showcasing what those of us born to New Orleans have always known, that this crazy city in a bend of the Mississippi River produces remarkable women, from community leaders to voodoo priestesses. Merci to photographer/author Cheryl Gerber for this overdue and beautiful homage.”

On Jan. 15th, from 5 to 8 the New Orleans Jazz Museum there will be a book launch of Cherchez La Femme: New Orleans with a gallery showing 32 photos from the book.

“They are of the female culture bearers,” Gerber says. “Mardi Gras Indian Queens, carnival marching keepers, social aid and pleasure clubs and musicians. In my 30 years of working here, I find I’m still discovering things. I’ll never get bored with New Orleans.”


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