Bar Napoleon

NEW ORLEANS - undercurrent

A photographic archaeologist of bygone eras and enchanted buildings,
Werner Pawlok has moved on from Havana, Cuba to New Orleans, Louisiana.
It is a short hop over the Gulf of Mexico to the Big Easy, which many, including
locals, often consider to be the ''northernmost Caribbean city.''

On this adventure the photographer from Stuttgart, Germany picks right up where
he left off in Havana. With powerful vintage imagery, Pawlok visits the present
to hear the stories of the past. He tracks down buildings deep in a dreamlike
slumber, and he kisses them awake with his camera. Almost intuitively, he is
drawn to authentic places from bygone epochs, taking a private look into their
mysterious inner lives. When he enters one of the old buildings, he immediately
feels whether or not it will speak to him. If it opens its eyes and casts a look
his way, he knows that it is going to be an extraordinary encounter, a run-in
with the past.

In his photographs, he shows the buildings’ and places’ unmistakable, authentic,
and direct charm. The pictures show the rooms and all their details exactly as the
photographer discovers them. Nothing is rearranged or moved for the sake of the
photograph. If there is a bed directly behind a group of tables, then it remains there.
This is the only way the room can speak of the real life that took place inside it – even
if the group of tables might have looked “nicer” all by itself.

When he is at work, the internationally renowned photographer does not merely
rely on technical tools like levels and plumb lines. Instead, he says he prefers to get a feel for the room by ceeping into it with all of his senses. He trusts gut feelings and intuition, experience and instinct. Personal connection with the buildings’ proud owners is extremely important to Pawlok, because it is the only way to get to the heart of the building and feel the lively pulse of the walls and the décor behind the heavy curtains. He avoids professional location scouts who specialise in tourist destinations. Day by day and mood by mood, the artist circles in on the buildings with lenses in tow. It takes time and drawnout itineraries to find access to the perfect locations as well as the necessary cultural background. But without a true feeling for the location and a sense of its character, without the flair of the city at large, there would be no truthful pictures.

New Orleans exudes a unique zest for life, reports Werner Pawlok. To him, it felt
like an island in the middle of America. Like Havana, it shares a colonial past. Jazz, Voodoo, and Mardi Gras have left exciting, colourful traces strewn throughout the city. At the same time, New Orleans is a fragile place situated right in a swampy region along the hurricane highway. The buildings are mainly made of wood. The city and life in the historic quarters are dependent on massive pumps and levees designed to keep the unruly waters of the Mississippi River Delta at bay.

There is a tension between the past and future, tradition and innovation that characterises the population’s cultural self-image. These are the enduring buildings and their unshakable owners that exist on the edge of time, revealing themselves to be fierce protectors of a tradition that has not yet come to an end. These houses are still occupied, which should not be forgotten when you look at them. Although large parts of the city had to be evacuated during the Katrina floods of 2005, people are gradually returning to the city they were forced to leave.

To uncover bygone eras, the photographer has to travel a long road together with the city and its culture. Pawlok’s works wait for an audience much like the red pool table in one of his new pieces. This dark game room and this glowing red felt are a single seduction. You can practically taste the honey-coloured bourbon and the humidity in the picture’s background. The photographer found his Blues, plainly revealing the face of Dixieland Jazz’s birthplace.

Werner Pawlok depicts rooms in all their glorious detail, but without any hustle
and bustle. The interiors speak for themselves, it is their portrait! This way, his pictures show their own, unmistakable faces. Naturally, these proud buildings put on their best smile. After all, they want to put forth a good face. The viewer encounters them and their rooms, which are charming, playful and sometimes even extroverted in the frank way of open, living people.

Text: Stephan Reisner


Bildübersicht New Orleans - undercurrent von Werner Pawlok