New Orleans and the 'Super Gras'

The Superdome in New Orleans

Photographer Stephen McLaren is best known for his pictures capturing amusing moments and juxtapositions on the streets of the UK, yet a visit to the United States offered him a chance to visit New Orleans, home of Mardi Gras and host to this weekend's Super Bowl.

More than seven years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city, America will once more focus its attention on New Orleans as the San Francisco 49ers meet the Baltimore Ravens on 3 February.

Here McLaren offers his thoughts on his brief visit to the city.

Stephen McLaren

The inhabitants of New Orleans, Louisana, are restless and playful with language. They speak loudly and warmly to each other in an accent that alternates between a drawling slang and a polite and mannered form of address.

They talk almost incessantly to visitors, which can be disconcerting if you are in the mood for peace and quiet, but that's why I know they have several nicknames for their beloved hometown.... N'awlins, The Crescent City, The Big Easy, and America's Most Interesting City.

"Interesting" is an understatement as New Orleans has its own way of doing things, it is literally a law unto itself. Want to smoke in a bar or club? No problem. Want to drink 24 hours? Sure, that's fine too. Want to bring the city to halt with parades and parties for weeks on end each springtime? Of course, that's Mardi Gras! The rest of America looks on bewildered then sends its more fun-loving and inquisitive citizens to the French Quarter for a piece of the action.

Last week I was back in New Orleans for my first visit in 20 years, and although in town to curate a photography exhibition for the New Orleans Photo Alliance, I was also there to take my own photographs of a city I knew to be incredibly photogenic and full of warm-hearted, fun-loving people. I was also keen to see how N'awlins was putting the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina - and the subsequent devastating flood - behind it.

A house awaiting renovation

Not being a sports fan I hadn't realised that the city's iconic sporting venue, the Superdome, is hosting this weekend's American football final, the Super Bowl. Only seven years ago the dome was serving as the city's main respite for those unable to escape the malevolence of Katrina, but has now had a new lick of champagne-gold paint and once again looks cutting-edge and gaudy, unlike the sad and battered structure of August 2005.

All round town TV crews were setting up studios, shops were stocking up on NFL merchandise, and football fans were invading hotels. There was a mighty buzz about the place and the term "Super Gras" was adroitly coined by locals to celebrate the fact that the Super Bowl was coinciding with the Mardi Gras parades season.

New Orleans has a rich and complex past. Documentary photography with its here-and-now visual concerns finds it difficult to deal with complex histories of peoples, places and cities, so to spend a mere week trying to flesh out some of the idiosyncrasies and cultural fault-lines in a series of photographs was always going to be a daunting task. Thankfully in New Orleans the inhabitants are always pleased to recommend lines of inquiry and I often followed the direction of knowledgeable locals

St Louis number two cemetery

The ornate St Louis cemeteries with their above-ground tombs were a delight to photograph and looming over it a huge billboard for the state lottery provided added commentary on the money worries of living and dead. The historic Central City district and Oretha Castle Haley street is being revitalised slowly and although a largely black neighbourhood, I was intrigued to find a newspaper posted to a telephone pole reporting a high-society masked ball while across the street was a mural depicting Martin Luther King Jnr.

The first parade of the Mardi Gras season

On St Charles Avenue the first Mardi Gras parades of the year traversed several neighbourhoods both rich and poor, black and white. People of all ages pleaded for those on the floats to throw them plastic beads and much unhealthy food was eaten by all along the route.

On Sunday, the Super Bowl, will give New Orleans the kind of world-wide exposure they have not had since the calamity of 2005. Its population may have declined since then, and many houses and businesses remain derelict, but the spirit of New Orleans lives on in abundance. "Super Gras" indeed.

Here are more of Stephen McLaren's pictures from New Orleans.

Mardi Gras parade
A snake owner of Rampart Street
Beads thrown from floats on the ground
A parade
Underpass, no loitering sign
Serving lunch
Revellers on Bourbon Street
Church in Treme
Superbowl merchandise for sale
Dog owners celebrate Mardi Gras in the French Quarter
A mural in New Orleans
Statue in the Marigney area

You can see more of Stephen McLaren's work on his website.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    I am now 59................No that`s all I can think to say...Oh it`s not football

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    Just now
    American football is a metaphor for war. .... Head injuries carry serious long term health risks for players. Nevertheless it is in keeping with America's national character which is why we love it so much. That also probably explains European disdain for it.


    No Its intermittent nature and all the padding that Europeans see as comparison with Rugby.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    American football is a metaphor for war. Unlike chess it is both mental and physical. It is a violent sport. Head injuries carry serious long term health risks for players. Nevertheless it is in keeping with America's national character which is why we love it so much. That also probably explains European disdain for it.There are no committees or negotiations, just endless battle for territory.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    6 Minutes ago
    Cajuns who live in Louisiana are descendants of French speaking Acadians who fled persecution in Canada because they wouldn't swear allegiance to the British Crown.A very sensible lot


    Is it fear of that Canadian pincer movemnent that keeps B H Obama fro properly funding reconstruction?

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    The reason people over here are negative about American football is because we have better things to watch. You can watch two films for the length of the superbowl as it's stop start. How you can say it's better than rugby where the game is on the move all the time I don't know, it's in our culture but then again it's not our game so there shouldn't be any surprises.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    Cajuns who live in Louisiana are descendants of French speaking Acadians who fled persecution in Canada because they wouldn't swear allegiance to the British Crown.A very sensible lot

    Culture of New Orleans is strongly influenced also by African Americans, Caribbean, Creole, and Native Americans.The birthplace of Jazz.Some say the most European of US cities

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    47 Minutes ago

    Ignorance seems to run through all your postings....Just because people play COD,


    My boss's son plays Call of Dooty. I hear that his wife has now upgraded to a bloke who actually answers that call where the bullets are real.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    Have they now improved the structural integrity of ceings in the bars in New Orleans yet? When I was there, they were constantly testing the security of the cyidrical roof props. Ladies would come out and apply forces to chech them for insecure mountings. It was very strenuous work as the ladies would need to disrobe to avoid overheating.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    Great photos.

    But why is everyone so negative about American Football? Not as good as Association Football of course, but a damned sight more interesting than rugby (how can the ref give a foul in a game which is a mass punch up?).

    And the Superbowl is a fantastic spectacle. Bit late for me, but I'll be recording it to watch later.

    Come on the '49ers!

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    I wonder how much The Ashes or the FA cup final or the Rugby world cup has been covered by Fox, CNN etc?

    Why is the bbc giving news space to this non event?

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.


    Ignorance seems to run through all your postings....Just because people play COD, does not make them snipers nor expert at handling a weapon...maybe if you Served in the Gulf or the Ghan you may have a point.

    Playing a game on a computer is NOT a substitution for knowing the game.....I pity your logic and only wish that your inane rants will drop off.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    Ed80: I well remember the two anthems being played at Wembley and some of the more ignorant Americans treating ours as My Country 'Tis Of Thee!

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Purplehair: Maybe you should note that the NFL games at Wembley sell out within minutes

    Britain is the only place outside of USA (well besides occasionally Canada) that American football games are played
    so if anything, its a huge compliment for both our countries

    Our American football players are some of the best of the best (+largest+tallest) athletes in the world

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    2 Hours ago
    Bridgewater, with an E, is in Salford, Greater Manchester area.
    So, if you want to visit a really great carnival in the UK,
    it has to be Bridgwater in Somerset, Saturday 2 November 2013.
    But if you want to get mugged any night of the week,
    go to Salford :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    I know the game inside out, I've had Madden on many console formats. Highlights are great, the game is unwatchable due to the advert breaks, clock being stopped, time outs, incomplete passes, running out of bounds, 2 minute warnings etc

    There was no demand for the London Monarchs but there are tens of thousands of US expats to buy tickets for 1 game yearly. Waste of licence fee

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Three places I know of (and there are probably lots more) show their exuberance and love of celebration on the same day. New Orleans has Mardi Gras, Rio has Carnivale, Britain has pancake day.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    It is hard to choose between both teams especially with their coaches being brothers

    This Super Bowl is not only being called Super Gras,
    its also being called Harbaugh Bowl

    Can't think of a better setting, New Orleans is very welcoming, always ready to have fun+ it makes us all feel more connected as a nation

    We Love You, New Orleans!!! ;)

    May the best team win!!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    Jim@29 You are 100% correct!

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Ed80...your ignorance betrays you. Maybe you should note that the NFL games at Wembley sell out within minutes of going on sale and that it is so popular that they have increased it to 2 games per season.

    Or maybe you might prefer the sedate pace of Radio Four? Just because you dislike the game, don't belittle those that do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.


    Been there and done it mate, I watched the Minnesota Vikings in Minneapolis more than once, and the 'Twins' baseball, bored me to tears.
    (and people say Cricket's boring!)

    Too many breaks in play, no fluidity in the games what so ever, and so slooooow! The whole 'sport' revolves around advertising.

    Take the rugby played over the weekend, thats real sport.


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