It’s been said that when you leave home and return years later, you see the place with a new set of eyes.
Jude Theriot is a prime example: returning to his hometown, the rural community of Catahoula, located on the edge of the Atchafalaya Basin nine miles east of St. Martinville, with a new vision, one that resulted in a history project to collect and digitize all the photos of the tiny Cajun community he could find.
Theriot has created Picture Catahoula, a collection of photos and documents that have served as fodder for a limited-edition book and a corresponding Flickr website page for the growing archive of old pictures.
Theriot’s grandparents moved to Catahoula in the early 1920s, and he grew up viewing items displayed on their shelves throughout the house. Later, when he would return home after college in California and a job as a doctor in Houston, he would see those items in a new light.
He asked his parents for old photos of the family and the town. Then he asked for photos from aunts and uncles. People in the community heard that Theriot was compiling a Catahoula history in the form of old images, so they began sharing theirs as well.
Theriot has now amassed thousands of photos.
“It started with a curiosity about personal history in terms of my family,” Theriot explained. “It kept snowballing from there. It ended up pooling together a community across the world who had roots in Catahoula.”
Theriot has scanned 4,000 photos, all of which were taken by residents within Catahoula or in the near vicinity.
The photos are available for public viewing on the Flickr page — with the blessing of the donors — and are separated into albums for easy viewing.
There are more than 300 photos of Mardi Gras celebrations, for instance, and views of St. Rita Catholic Church, Catahoula Elementary School and Lake Catahoula.
There are photos of people eating crawfish, getting married, celebrating birthdays and carrying candles at their first Holy Communion (“Every family has that picture,” Theriot said.)
To raise money for the project, Theriot began a Kickstarter campaign, where donors who pledged $60 or more would receive a limited-edition, 512-page hardcover book filled with more than 400 photos, along with letters, maps, newspaper articles and other historical documents.
The cover consists of black fabric embossed with a vintage pattern and an oval photo of oak trees on Catahoula Lake.
“I wanted it to look like an old photo album,” Theriot said. “The idea was for it to look out of time.”
The Kickstarter campaign has ended and Theriot reached well over his goal of $10,000. He printed 500 of the books, with 450 accounted for.
Theriot believes the project brought the community together, whether by telling their stories and sharing memories through photos and documents or reliving life in Catahoula by revisiting the town’s history on the Internet.
“I think people really responded to this,” he said. “There’s something universal about home.”
Even though the book project has reached its conclusion, Theriot hopes to constantly update the Flickr site with more photos and to create more historical projects on Catahoula.
He also has obtained audio recordings from residents and 8mm film footage, both of which he hopes to use in future endeavors.
In addition, Theriot created his own video about his hometown and has lots of extra drone footage he hopes to use at a later date.
“There’s quite a lot of material to organize,” he said. “In that sense, the project will be going on for a while. In fact, I think it will be something I will be working on forever.”
To view the Picture Catahoula Flick r page, visit flickr.com/photos/94172702@N04/albums.