Cheryl Gerber has been photographing for Gambit since 1994, when a photo essay she did on the gutter punks of lower Decatur Street appeared in these pages. "I'll never forget the day that I walked into the then-PJ's on Frenchmen Street and saw a policeman reading the story in Gambit," Gerber says. "He looked at me, not knowing that it was my story, and said, 'This is the best thing I've seen in a long time.' From that moment, I wanted to tell stories about people in New Orleans."
Her new book, New Orleans: Life and Death in the Big Easy, tells those stories by juxtaposing photographs of the city, creating an effect that's sometimes humorous, sometimes jarring, sometimes tragic. She contrasts a murder victim dead on a Central City sidewalk with a drunk passed out on a French Quarter sidewalk. A woman being pepper-sprayed by police at a demonstration contorts her body in the same way another woman dances at the Maple Leaf Bar. The famous Ernie K-Doe mannequin sits jauntily in the Mother-in-Law Lounge — in the same position socialite Mickey Easterling sits embalmed at her own funeral, cigarette and Champagne flute in her hands.
Gerber is a New Orleans native, and the original title of the book was New Orleans: I Love You, I Hate You. "When I start to rant about all the ills of New Orleans, some ask why I stay. I've asked myself that question a million times," Gerber says. "And the answer is the people. I simply love people, especially New Orleanians. Even in our darkest days, we pull together and rejoice in being here. Together — black, white, rich, poor, gay, straight, young and old. I think that's what makes New Orleans so special. We celebrate life and death like nowhere in the world.
"And I will never run out of things to photograph."