A retired professor turns his lens on indigenous Louisiana music and compiles an impressive catalogue for posterity. By Andrea Gallo
Fiddles wailing, accordions oscillating, dancers two-stepping — David Simpson has captured it all.
The retired LSU-Eunice English professor says he started taking photographs of cultural events when he served as the university’s public relations director and local performers peaked his interest, though he “really didn’t have any training” in photography.
Simpson studied French while earning his Ph.D., and says his pursuit of photography was further sparked when he saw The Magnolia Sisters, who release their lyrics in both English and French. Once he saw Geno Delafose perform at Downtown Alive, he says, he knew the performances would inspire him and drive him to keep shooting photos.
“The power of the music and the beauty…there’s a real deep passion there…I think some of that passion comes through,” he says.
Simpson tries to capture artists in “a moment where there’s some sort of interaction, or the emotion on their face is compelling.” He says his tactic is to snap as many shots as possible. “The key with taking the pictures is just to take a whole lot,” he says. “I couldn’t have done this before the digital era.”
While several media outlets have used Simpson’s photos — the collection is rapidly becoming an invaluable archive of South Louisiana music — he refuses to charge for them and says he is “pleased that anyone can use the photographs,” adding that since photography is a hobby, he doesn’t want to reap the benefits of hard-working musicians.
The retired professor pegs among his favorite musicians Balfa Toujours, Steve Riley & The Mamou Playboys and Delafose, noting that some of the younger upcoming talents are Feufollet and the Pine Leaf Boys, while even younger acts, like Briggs Brown and Kyle Huval, may fuel the next generation of Cajun and Creole music.
“There’s so many that are really, in different ways, powerful performers that can really captivate you,” Simpson says.
Simpson has about 11,000 photos on his flickr account and many remain on the LSUE website. He indexes his photos at CajunZydecoPhotos.com.
SPEAKING OF ARCHIVES... UL Lafayette’s Center for Cultural and Eco-Tourism and Archives of Cajun and Creole Folklore will host their eighth annual Archive Aid fundraiser June 4 at the Blue Moon Saloon. Jennifer Ritter, CCET’s assistant director, says the archive spans from the 1930s to present day, seeded by folklore professor Barry Ancelet’s dissertation in the 1970s. She says the archive encompasses audio recordings, videos, images and paper collections. The bulk of the music collection was not released commercially; unique to UL, it has been used by researchers, students and local musicians.
“It’s really been used heavily by modern Cajun bands to find old tunes and make new versions,” says archivist Chris Segura.
Ritter adds that the archive is not university-funded, thus the concert’s proceeds will go toward hiring personnel and purchasing equipment.
“Our primary goal always,” says Ritter, “is visibility and acceptability — to educate people about this resource that does exist locally and to generate support, to let them know we are actively preserving the generations and the culture and the nuances.” — AG
ARCHIVE AID 8 Saturday, June 4 Blue Moon Saloon 5:30 p.m. till $10 cover (includes food)
Main Stage: Joe Hall Tepetate Charivari reunion Feufollet featuring members of BeauSoleil
Front Porch: David Doucet, Kristi Guillory & Anya Burgess David Greely
David Calhoun and Elizabeth “EB” Brooks are the first two employees of Lafayette Central Park Inc., the nonprofit charged with turning Lafayette Consolidated Government’s 100-acre Johnston Street Horse Farm property into a passive public park. Calhoun was named executive director, and Brooks is director of planning and design.
There will soon be a whole lot of shakin’ going on at Benny’s Sportshack Supplement Depot, a new concept by Opelousas native Benny Nele. Located at 2002 Johnston St., the supplement shop, smoothie bar and café, featuring hot off the press paninis and wraps, plans to open in late May.