Revel & Revolt
By Beau Patrick Coulon
12 April 2021
New Orleans captured at play and protest.
Revel and Revolt is a selection of photographs capturing New Orleans in the period 2015-2020. Aptly named, the subjects of Coulon’s lens are seen in joyous celebration of life and in protest at those who would deny them their rights. It hones in on those people who had most to lose when ultra-conservative views began to raise its nightstick in America: the punks, gays, sex-workers, blacks. The artist is no interloper to the underclass and subculture, no middle class slummer.
Beau Patrick Coulon spent his teenage years living on the streets with punks he met on Hollywood Blvd, before hitchhiking across the country and hanging out with punks and anarchists. In his 20s he moved around, taking whatever job he could find from farming, flipping burgers, framing houses, and pouring concrete. Since taking up the camera, Coulon’s work in photography and filmmaking has been shown in galleries and art spaces around the United States.
What Coulon presents in Revel and Revolt is not a series of images with an unbiased eye, the cold lens, as is made clear in images of neo-confederates ‘protecting’ statues and the one fingered salutes to them which appear to be coming out of the camera lens itself. But his clear sympathies allow him close up access with his subjects.
What he captures in his photos is the resident of New Orleans’ trying to protect its heritage and its culture from being Disneyfied for tourists. As one sex worker declares on her placard, after a night of raids by the police: This is Bourbon Street, Not Sesame Street. The famous Mardi Gras itself is a community space by and for the people, that sadly, like so many such spectacles is in danger of becoming gentrified and toothless. A tourist photo opportunity. He captures the splendour and tackiness of Mardi Gras in all its reality. The individuality of the carnival and the protestors are juxtaposed against the brutal conformity of the police.
In one photo a sex worker leans back on the bonnet of a police car, fanning herself whilst a placard reads Hookers Against the Police. In the police car, a magic tree freshener hangs. Symbolic of keeping the stench of the street away?
A picture of burning shopping trolleys – symbolic of capitalism – being danced around, above an image of drum corps pounding out the beat at Mardi Gras, shows where real culture lies and where it is in danger of being destroyed.
Coulon covers the 2016 protests that followed the cop killing of Alton Sterling. Whilst not a unique image, the framing of a lone protestor standing against a massed rank of battle armoured cops is powerful. Of course, there will be protestors outside the sight of the lens, but the point is made forcefully. What photography can do, more than moving pictures, is freeze a moment in time for us to ponder and study. Coulon’s picture of a mass scrum of police and protestors, although full of movement, allows us to take breath, and pause, something not available to the people involved, to see the hate, the anger, the fear and the hope. It shows the chaos that occurs when those who wish to protest meet those who want to clear the streets. In another photograph a black protestor holds a sign that says Fuck The Police. Succinctly displaying a divide that may never be bridged.
There are clashes too between the left and the right as the neo-Confederates become bolder in the run up to the election that Trump would win. In response, Antifa takes to the streets and Coulon captures these moments of anger, but also the joy in people’s faces as a Robert E. Lee statue is removed.
He captures the colour, smiling splendour and joy of the protestors. The inventiveness they use to protest at the impingement on their way of life. It creates an impression of people just wanting to have fun and lead their lives their own way and getting angry when their way of life is threatened.
Coulon is also adept at capturing the energy and anger of DIY punk shows, which he admits 9 times out of 10 can be boring affairs, but then wham, there’s the tenth one which really gets you moving. The vivacity and energy of a group playing and the ferocity of a singer’s words really jump out of the photographs. In one photograph of a band playing the framing constricts the space so that there hardly looks like any room to play, with the instruments and artists contorting into the space.
One image perhaps sums up the revel and revolt. Looking down from an upper floor amidst a tangle of legs, to a stage below where a technician works amidst a crush of people, one face is looking up, smiling, happy, but raising a finger with a fuck you to the camera. What Coulon has captured in his images is a love of life and a willingness to fight to protect that life. He is showing us that nothing can ever be taken for granted.