The Backstreet Cultural Museum may be the most important site to visit in New Orleans. Sylvestor Francis, a cameraman, as he identifies himself, officially opened the space in 1999. Born and raised in New Orleans, Francis was known around the neighborhood as the picture man. He photographed the culture he inherently knew – the Mardi Gras Indians, the Second Lines, the Black Social Clubs – printing endless copies at Walgreens and then blowing up the pictures so the details weren’t lost. He carried around a black binder with the photographs, always finding the faces that composed his shots, making sure that if you made it into a picture that you got a personal copy.
It was clear Sylvestor was an archive man. Friends starting giving cherished items to him – used suits, photographs, memorabilia. He began displaying the items in his garage, giving miniature tours, sharing the culture, until the Rhodes Funeral Home offered up a space. Today, Backstreet has the most comprehensive collection of items related to the New Orleans African-American community and Sylvestor Francis still runs the show.
During a chat with Sylvestor he commented, “I’m no museum man. I don’t even know what that means – a museum man. But I got a museum.”
All photographs copyrighted to Rachel Heidenry.