New Orleans: Elegance and Decadence

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New Orleans: Elegance and Decadence
San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1993
Photographs by Richard Sexton
Narrative by Randolph Delehanty
Book design by Charles Routhier, Storehouse Co.
222 pages, over 240 color photographs
ISBN: 0-8118-0074-1
Hardcover, $40 retail

A new edition of Elegance and Decadence was published in January 2012 and was featured in the Spring 2012 Chronicle Books catalog.

In 2020, after being in print for 27 years with multiple printings and a new edition on the 20th anniversary of the original printing, all copies of Elegance and Decadence were sold out and Chronicle Books listed the title as “out of stock.” Then in 2021, the status was changed to “out of print.” Negotiations have recently begun for the publication of a new, revised edition, with a new publisher. Check back here for updates. In the meantime, used copies can be found in some of the usual online places–Abe Books, Etsy, etc. Just Google the title and see what’s out there on the collector market. Locally, in New Orleans, used copies are available from time to time at Garden District Bookshop.


From the combined standpoint of critical acclaim, sales, popularity, and influence, New Orleans: Elegance and Decadence is perhaps Richard Sexton’s most successful title to date. Released in 1993, Elegance and Decadence has had multiple hardcover printings and a new edition was published in 2003 and then re-issued in 2012. There are now about 90,000 books in print, making this title one of the most successful photographic books ever about New Orleans.

New Orleans: Elegance and Decadence is an ambitious photo-essay focusing on the historic architecture and neighborhoods of New Orleans, the effects of the passage of time on this historic urban landscape, and the lifestyles and trappings of some of the city’s more eccentric, creative, and impassioned residents. With a distinctive embossed cloth spine and a dust jacket-less binding, New Orleans: Elegance and Decadence is presented as a photo album of the city. The only continuous narrative is the one told by the photographic images, with extended and insightful captions by co-author Randolph Delehanty. The photo essay is comprised of four broad themes: URBAN FABRIC, INWARD VIEWS, VERDANT ENCLAVES, and CULTURAL REVELRY.

Many photo essays have focused on the characterization of place. Within this genre, New Orleans: Elegance and Decadence has been successful and enduring.


New Orleans: Elegance and Decadence is a dreamy poem of a book, a lovely evocation of the city’s twin charms…Sexton’s rich, evocative photographs in combination with Delehanty’s text, discursive and witty, give a sense of how these spaces are loved and used…. This beautiful book is a toast to the way we live in New Orleans, a tribute to a lifestyle of insouciance and exuberance, touched by both spirituality and worldliness. In both word and image, Sexton and Delehanty have got it right; rarely has the city been loved both so wisely and so well.”

– Susan Larson, Book Editor, Times-Picayune; Oct. 1, 1993


“…a lush compilation of photographs focusing on age and the passage of time in this venerable city…resulting in a beautiful reflection of the seductive side of the city. It’s a mix of cultures, a mix of antique with funk, a blend of the very old with a touch of the odd…”

– Mary Beth Romig-Price; Arts & Letters; New Orleans Magazine, Oct. 1993


“Our top ten gift books…New Orleans: Elegance and Decadence is a gorgeous book that covers unexplored territory. Sexton’s moody photographs capture the unique manner in which some of its residents live.”

– Mary Daniels, Home Section, Chicago Tribune; Dec. 5, 1993


“Signs of age and the patina of centuries are celebrated at every turn…This is the definitive volume for those who’ve wanted to visit sunny verandas and shotgun cottages in New Orleans.”

– Diane Dorran Saeks, San Francisco Chronicle; Dec. 22, 1993


“… it’s a look into a city’s soul.”

– Madeleine McDermott Hamm, Houston Chronicle; Dec. 5, 1993


“… the most sensitive look inside New Orleans since Lafcadio Hearn…New Orleans: Elegance and Decadence is certainly the best photographic book ever on the city.”

– Dr. Patricia Brady, former director of publications, The Historic New Orleans Collection, and former president of New Orleans/Gulf South Bookseller’s Association