David G. Spielman: Guest blogger. Assignment: 2 – Café Du Monde. Location: New Orleans. Equipment: D-Lux 4.
Long, long before Starbucks, computers, the Internet, and chat rooms, Café Du Monde was in full swing. A year after the start of the Civil War the original Café Du Monde Coffee Stand was established in the New Orleans French Market. That was 1862.
Its Café Au Lait is made from a dark roasted coffee with chicory. The chicory root is a coffee bean substitute that is added to the grounds offering a wonderful and distinctive taste. To complete the coffee making process hot milk is added, usually presented half milk and half coffee. Another unique offering at the Café Du Monde is “Beignets”, square French-style doughnuts, lavishly covered with powdered sugar. No you can’t get an espresso, no you can’t have a latté, and no it isn’t served with skim milk. Your choices are simple, Café Au Lait, and Beignets. They have in recent years added hot chocolate, cold chocolate, white milk, and fresh squeezed orange juice. Iced Coffee was introduced in 1988.
My first experience at the Café Du Monde was within the first week of my arrival in New Orleans back in the early 1970’s. Late one evening several of my new New Orleans friends introduced me to the café. Wow, I had never tasted anything so good and different, and at the time a café au lait and beignets together cost .75 cents. Of course the price has risen but I still enjoy and made it a regular stop. Another wonderful thing about the Café Du Monde is that it never closes, I mean never – it is open twenty-four-seven with the exception of Christmas being the only scheduled day to be closed. It has shut its doors when a hurricane gets close but it has to get really close. After drinking thousands of cups of coffee around the world, there is something very special about their café au lait. In my mind it is still the best cup of coffee in New Orleans.
Shooting this self-assignment I wanted to share the story of the Café Du Monde. Not just the easy snaps but trying to dig in and figure out how to make my images a bit more interesting. So what I like to do is start broad and then work my way tight. Of course you can start in close and work your way out. Either works well, I just like walking up and start shooting the entire place, looking for odd angles, different views, something that will help those viewing it to get excited and want to try it if or when they get to New Orleans. I was lucky and talked my way into the “back of the house” where I got to see them preparing the dough and then the cooking of the beignets. One of the important parts of the operation is the wait staff, with such large crowds and so little time things have to work smoothly, much like a fine tuned watch.
I also try and visit places at odd or off hours. This lets me see the architecture and shapes of the place. You will notice that I like shooting shapes and angles. My favorite time at the Café Du Monde is early in the morning, before sunrise. The night-lifers and workers of the French Quarter are winding down their day and the day workers are just starting. So there in front of you the end of one day and the start of another. Of course you might catch some of the characters of the night and the oddities of New Orleans right before your eyes and camera.
Shoot the whole process, make friends with your waiter and I’m sure he or she will let you take a few pictures of them, shoot the arrival of your order, create a still-life, add elements of your personality. A picture of a cup of coffee won’t really excite many memories but add a hat, a map, hotel room key or anything that will make the picture yours. It will them become much more interesting to others. Also shoot lots of photos, if one is good, more is better. The camera is your scrapbook, so when your return home you will have a small photo essay of some of the places and activities of your trip. A wonderful reminder and keepsake but a great starting point for stories of your adventures.
Grab a good book, your camera and head to the Café Du Monde. Good Shooting…..
-David G. SPIELMAN