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Review: Along St. Claude 

Jonathan Traviesa’s photos of a rapidly changing neighborhood, on view at The Front

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While showing a visiting artist around St. Claude Avenue recently, I had trouble explaining the why vandals would crack the windows at the newly restored St. Roch Market. The artist, a native of Latin America and no stranger to turmoil, was shocked at the violent reaction to a historic restoration. It's not easy to explain how gentrification became such a hot-button issue in this old, traditionally working-class neighborhood, but now a series of portrait photographs, Along Saint Claude, by Jonathan Traviesa, lends a rich visual dimension to the discussion. It's the pictorial component of Eve Abrams' WWNO radio production of the same name, which won a 2015 Regional Edward R. Murrow Award for best news documentary for its colorful exploration of this complex issue.

In a neighborhood now known as a home to hipsters from all over, it is immensely reassuring to read on a wall text about the artwork that Steve Nuccio has lived on the same block of Franklin Avenue for more than 60 years, arriving on a boat from Sicily when he was 12. And that tavern keeper Roy Markey was born in Bywater when it was known simply as "da Nint' Ward" — but you have to listen to the radio show (posted on the WWNO website) to learn that his family's bar once opened at 6 a.m. for dock workers who preferred to drink their breakfasts. Sculptor Malcolm McClay could almost pass for a relative of the Markeys but is actually an Irish expat who arrived in the 1990s. Joanne Livaccari Cieutat (pictured) has lived in her Poland Avenue home for 76 years, and here she appears resplendent in her tropical garden dominated by a statue of the Virgin Mary and the equally colorful personal style of artist Francesca McKenzie, who arrived in 2009, suggests more continuity than one might expect. St. Claude Avenue has always inspired deeply felt passions, and perhaps those same passions will enable it to evolve without losing its distinctive character.


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