Using an “imperfect image” in your book

“Imperfect Image”

Nopsi 853 imperfect image

NOPSI 857 at Carrollton Station

“Imperfect Image” – it just might be perfect for your book

We presented a bit of background on NOPSI 857 in our previous post. Streetcars and transit are popular photos in history books. They represent movement, growth, development. In many cases, they also represent a point in history that’s gone, now that buses and more-modern street rail vehicles dominate public transit.

In this image, the photographer left out the right side of the streetcar. It may be they focused on the left side for a particular reason. Many photos from this particular collection were used in court cases. The photographers focused on particular parts of the car.

What works about this photo

Even though it’s a partial image of NOPSI 853, this photo offers interesting details. The 7-Up ad on the front is clear. So is the roll board. The car sits at the back of the station. The street outside (Jeanette St. in uptown New Orleans) is visible.

Related photos

imperfect image

NOPSI 813 at Carrollton Station, 1948

While this photo alone has interesting elements, it works well in conjunction with related photos. Here’s NOPSI 813, on Jeanette Street. So, this streetcar is about to enter the barn, and 857 is already there. The combination becomes a scene. Add an overall shot of the barn and the story grows.

Story Options

What’s the story here? Life near a streetcar barn? Things in Uptown New Orleans? Streetcars traveling around the city? Corporate history? Add a photo you know captures the reader’s interest. Its relevance to a topic may be tangential, but it gets the reader through a slow part of your overall story.

Apply the concept

You have approximately 300 images related to your subject. Not all of them are “perfect” at first glance. Some are interesting, though. Creativity gives you the edge.

Even if you use an “imperfect image”.

NOPSI 857 at Carrollton Station #streetcars #transit

NOPSI 857 at Carrollton Station #streetcars #transit


NOPSI 857 – Streetcar in Uptown New Orleans

New Orleans Public Service, Incorporated (NOPSI) streetcar 857, entering Carrollton Station. The streetcar turned off of S. Carrollton Avenue, onto Jeanette Street. This is the back of the streetcar barn. The streetcar pulled in, and likely pulled up further on the track. It was then in position to pull out the front of the barn, on Willow Street.

The “roll board” indicates 857 operated on the St. Charles Belt on the day of this photograph.

Perley Thomas Arch Roof Design

This streetcar is one of the 800-series of arch roof streetcars operated by NOPSI. Perley A. Thomas developed the original design when he worked for Southern Car Company of High Point, NC, in the early 1900s. The design was perfect for the climate in New Orleans.

NOPSI’s predecessor, New Orleans Railway and Light, bought Thomas’ arch roofs from Southern Car in the 1910s. They worked so well that NOPSI continued operating those original streetcars and ordered more. There are still 35 of the 900-series (vintage 1924) in service on the city’s St. Charles Avenue line.

The 800-series were discontinued by NOPSI in 1964. In that year, the company dropped streetcar service on its Canal Street line. Air-conditioned buses replaced the arch roofs in May of that year. A few of the 800s were sold to private concerns, but most of them were destroyed. NOPSI didn’t want preservationists to prevent them from replacing as many streetcars as possible with buses. If the streetcars didn’t exist, there was no going back.

The Canal Street line operated with buses from 1964 to 2004. The line is the subject of my Images of America book, New Orleans: The Canal Streetcar Line.

Why NOPSI 857?

One of our objectives with Arcadia Coach is to discuss technique. What is it about an image that works and doesn’t work? When does the author include a photo that “breaks the rules”?

I want to talk about “recommended practices” but not in a vacuum. So, before we get into the editorial aspects, we’ll talk about the history of a photo.


Finding photos in unlikely places

Finding photos in unlikely places

Finding photos in unlikely places

(this article is cross-posted to NOLA History Guy)

finding photos

Carver House Terrace Restaurant at Lincoln Beach, New Orleans, 1956 (courtesy

Finding photos in unlikely places – it’s fun!

Checking our Facebook group, “Ain’t There No More” (the title is an homage to a popular New Orleans song) this morning, I saw Todd Price of posted another of his “lost restaurant” articles. Todd’s one of the food-and-drink writers for the Times-Picayune newspaper. You’ll see me refer to the T-P as “Da Paper” occasionally. Da Paper has an extensive photo database. Todd makes wonderful use of it. Not really sure how he gets his job done, some days. One day, I’ll get Da Paper to hire me in some capacity. Then, access to all those images and articles is mine! 🙂

Most of Todd’s old restaurant photos engage readers, However, today’s article had a neat find. The photo up top is Carver House Terrace Restaurant. This was the “nice” place at Lincoln Beach, the old Jim Crow amusement park. Here’s Todd’s caption:

The restaurant was part of Lincoln Beach, the lakefront amusement for black New Orleanians. When the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964, the previously whites-only amusement park Pontchartrain Beach was integrated. Lincoln Beach closed that same year. (1956 photo)

This is a particularly nice find, because it’s hard to come up with good photos of Lincoln Beach. Since it was the segregated park. Therefore, you didn’t have photo-bug white folks with disposable income walking around, like one would see at Pontchartrain Beach, the whites-only amusement park. Newspaper reporters didn’t go out there as much for slice-of-life segments, or people-having-fun stories. Most of the photos that are easily viewed are from after it closed, or of musicians and other entertainment acts that played to the African-American audience.

Be creative when you search

That doesn’t mean photos of Lincoln Beach don’t exist. It’s a question of refining search fields and digging in the right offline collections. In this case, Todd found Carver House in Da Paper’s restaurant files. It’s likely that the photo wasn’t tagged with a keyword for the park.

Jim Crow-era research is problematic in general, because so many of the “separate but equal” facilities were anything but. So, when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law, those facilities were rendered redundant. White-only facilities were far better, so black folks integrated into those. The other big problem is that Jim Crow-style segregation was outlawed 53 years ago. This photo of Carver House is from 1956. It’s over 60 years old. While archivists will save everything they get their hands on, government agencies were quick to box up segregation and put it on the shelf. Sometimes the “shelf” was the dumpster out back.

Finding photos on African-American subjects

Researching Jim Crow-era subjects? Your best bet for finding photos is family photo collections. Maybe grandpa and grandma saw Fats Domino out there. Possibly they ate at Carver House. So, ask around. Somebody’s got a box of old photos in the attic.

Go dig around!

ArcadiaCoach (dot com)

You’ve seen those books in the “Local Interest” section of your bookstore. You know, the ones with the sepia-tone covers, the “Images of America” books from Arcadia Publishing. We’re here to help you get your Arcadia book started!

Edward Branley is the author of five Arcadia titles, as well as his latest book, Krauss – The New Orleans Value Store, published by The History Press.

Dara Rochlin is a freelance editor. She assisted Edward with research on his book, New Orleans Jazz, as well as research and manuscript editing for the Krauss book. Dara is also Edward’s editor for his fiction projects. Dara and Edward now share their expertise with you, to make your Arcadia title a success.

Getting Started – The Author Proposal

Getting Started – The Author Proposal

Getting Started

getting started

Getting Started – The Author Proposal

You’ve passed by that “Local Interest” section in your favorite bookstore for years. Folks you know are amazed at the knowledge you have about your town, sports team, college, or some other local topic. You’re ready to do this!

Or are you?

The Author Proposal is the process by which you decide. It’s not difficult to work with, but it is detailed. You need the answers to a number of questions about your project. This is where you make the decision to go forward. Let’s start the process with some general things you need to answer, if you want to write a history book. While we’re working within the context of writing a book for Arcadia or The History Press, the things you need to work through apply to submitting a book proposal for other imprints as well. While the details in specific proposal packages vary, the basics are common.

What do you know?

It’s one thing to think you know a particular subject. Actually knowing enough to write a book is another. Friends, neighbors, and colleagues help with this discernment. If folks really tell you, you should write a book, that’s a good start. Many history books tell their story chronogically. So, start your timeline. Turn it into an outline. Run it past your friends.

Don’t worry about credentials

You don’t need to have a doctorate to write a history book! You don’t even need a college degree. This is important – you do need to be able to write. Maybe not perfectly, but you have to get in front of a keyboard. So, if you can write a 1500-word introduction and a lot of 20 to 50-word captions, you’re up to the challenge. If you want to tell a longer story, write a thousand words. Get friends and colleagues to look it over. Be ready to accept their critiques.

Just because your writing needs work doesn’t mean you can’t write a book! Using an editor may be the route you take.

Get to work – go to our Author Proposal page to learn more about the process.

Let’s write a History book!

Let’s write a History book!

Your friends always tell you that you should write a book about your home town, where you work, your school, or perhaps your church. Among other things. Let’s make that happen!