I’ve always thought National Geographic was such a great photo magazine because it parked me in the middle of all sorts of open windows, giving me access to actually see events, cultures and traditions from around the globe. Images I never visualized or had seen before. In photojournalism today, that in itself is an accomplishment, pictures that are alien to the masses.
This is where my sugarcane story comes in. I grew up in southwestern Louisiana (commonly known as “Cajun Country.”). Mardi Gras is one of our best known holidays, an event only celebrated by a few certain cultures in the USA and the world. New Orleans and Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro’s “carnival” celebrations are familiar to many who have seen and read about it through time. In our little corner of Louisiana we are steeped in tradition and our celebration of “Fat Tuesday” is like one most people have never seen before.
Sugarcane harvesting is another one of our cultural events that doesn’t resonate with but a few cajuns. Most of us who grew up in the deep south were able to learn rather quickly about the traditional farms and farming methods in the USA by reading the text and viewing the images enclosed in our geography or history textbooks. It gave you a dreamy and warm feeling to see nothing but wheat blowing in the wind of a huge farm in Iowa or corn in Nebraska. The barns were large and red! The farmers worked from sunup to sundown. Even today, I doubt today there were any school textbooks that taught or displayed sugarcane farming in southern Louisiana.
Although sugarcane acreage make up more than 78% of the total area of St. Martin Parish (where I was born and raised), it’s done rather quietly for 9-10 months out of the year. It’s when harvesting season begins in early September, things really pick up. The sugarcane stalks are cut from the fields then transported via tractor trailers to the two large refineries in the towns of St. Martinville and Breaux Bridge, LA. The refineries then process the cane stalks to sugar. The beginning of harvesting season also coincides with the start of public and private schools in the area. What was normally a 15 minute bus ride from my home to school took sometimes 45 minutes because of tractor trailer gridlock. The entire months of September and October were a marathon of a 24-7 getting our cane to harvest by the more than 40 cane farmers in the parish. Sometimes cane stalks would fall off the trailers and in no time sugar cane was all over the roads. It became and horrible and dangerous mess after a rainfall, but it sure smelled nice! By November the harvesting was over and soon after another planting season would begin.
Louisiana is blessed to have these incredible cultural events and traditions, unlike most of mainstream America. I hope to photograph more of these in the future and show it everywhere. Even though I’ve been a working photojournalist in NYC for the last 15 years, I’m still very much tied to my roots.