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Vestiges of Grandeur: The Plantations of Lousiana’s River Road
San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1999
Written and Photographed by Richard Sexton
With aerial photographs by Alex S. MacLean
Introduction by Dr. Eugene Cizek, FAIA
Book design by Charles Routhier, Storehouse Co.
256 pages; 230 color photographs
Hardcover, $40 retail
A second gallery edition of Vestiges of Grandeur was published in February 2011. It features a signed and numbered first printing of the trade edition, a custom Belgian linen slipcase, and an original, signed and numbered color pigment print of the cover image, “Stairway, Ashland Belle-Helene Plantation”. The new gallery edition retails for $400 and is currently available from gallery representatives.
In 2020, all copies of the trade edition of Vestiges of Grandeur were sold out and Chronicle Books designated the title as “out of stock.” Richard Sexton personally requested that the title not be reprinted, so that some of the photographs could be used in conjunction with newer images to create a new, updated book. Check back here for news on the status of a new title based on the historical subject matter of Louisiana’s river road. In the meantime, the second gallery edition mentioned above is currently still available from gallery representatives. Used copies of the trade edition can be found at the usual online sources—Abe Books, Etsy, etc. Google the title to see what’s out there on the collector market.
Published in 1999, Vestiges of Grandeur is perhaps best described as the rural companion volume to New Orleans: Elegance and Decadence. This project focuses on the historic plantation sites of the River Road between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. In many ways, Vestiges of Grandeur is a refinement of the photo-essay approach that proved so successful in Elegance and Decadence. The subject matter, though, is more complex, somber, and mired in a complex history. Whereas Elegance and Decadence was a celebration, Vestiges of Grandeur is more of a bittersweet lament. Also, Vestiges is more journalistically ambitious and seeks to present a more definitive picture of the full scope of the subject. It includes not just the principal houses of the planters, but the slave cabins, barns, pigeonniers, overseer’s houses, and sugar mills, that formed the working sites of Louisiana plantations.
Richard Sexton’s text and photographs are supplemented by the aerial photographs of Alex S. MacLean, which are a vital component of the photo-essay. Preservation architect Eugene Cizek contributed an historical introduction.
“…beautifully photographed with images so vivid you can almost feel the damp heat and smell the decay.” – Jayne Clark, USA Today, December 10, 1999
“Richard Sexton chronicles the landmarks, both vibrant and decaying, that line the banks of our most storied river, from Baton Rouge to New Orleans. His atmospheric photographs limn a landscape at once melancholy, contradictory, overripe, haunting, and scary.” – Allen Freeman, Preservation, Nov/Dec 1999
“Vestiges of Grandeur…is a landmark book, a moment frozen in time. Eloquent, passionate, and heartfelt…this work belongs on every Louisiana bookshelf.” – Susan Larson, Times-Picayune, Nov. 5, 1999
“With his gorgeous book Vestiges of Grandeur, Sexton does what no photographer really has done since Clarence John Laughlin shot the derelict plantation homes half a century ago. . . Though he has numerous books to his credit, Sexton’s Louisiana photography is exceptionally organic. He writes about the ‘swampy infinity’ of the River Road as if he grew up here, and nobody packs such a wallop with a shot of cracked ceiling plaster.” – Rheta Grimsley Johnson, syndicated columnist, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, June 4, 2000
“Through photography and writing, this book looks at the truth behind the myths and offers an insightful, yet beautiful portrait of the River Road plantations. Even though you can read Vestiges of Grandeur for its factual information, its strength lies in the striking photographs that let you witness for yourself the power of the fact behind the fiction.” – Sara Askew Orr, Southern Living, March 2000
“No one interested in Louisiana history should fail to get a copy of this book. It’s not just pretty pictures. This might be the one coffee-table book that you want to give as a Christmas present this year. Do yourself a favor and take a look at it.” – Greg Langley, Book Editor, Baton Rouge Advocate, December 19, 1999