Welcome to Crawfish Season / by Emily Alben

From Constellation Magazine Issue 3: The American South


What do I think about when I think about seasons in New Orleans? 

Well, there’s too-hot-to-do-anything season, hurricane season, Mardi Gras season, and, of course, crawfish season. 

Les Blank’s Always For Pleasure, a 1978 documentary about New Orleans traditions, features an interview with the cook at Frankie and Johnny’s, who outlines the proper way to dissect a crawfish: “You put it under your tongue with your teeth…you squeeze and pull out, then you suck the heads.” 

This exceptionally visceral scene marked the beginning of my own fascination with crawfish culture. The crawfish boil functions as a return to the swamp: the murky water, the not knowing exactly what lies beneath the surface. 

My friend, muse, and model for this shoot, Christ Moses, and I ventured outside the Crescent City to the banks of the Pearl River for a picnic built around the aforementioned crawfish—with a side of fresh Louisiana strawberries and Barq’s root beer. 

I’m no crawfish expert, but I did have a perfectly worn-in vintage “Louisiana Mudbug” t-shirt for Christ to wear while I taught her the tricks of the crawfish trade that I’d learned from the Cajun cook. In the photographs, I sought to capture the specificity of the ritual, while also showcasing the almost prehistoric attributes of these strange, clawed creatures.

After our picnic, we ventured through the lush greenery and into the swamp. It’s an enchanting setting, with Spanish moss draped over the branches, cypress trees and their maze of roots, and overturned boats in the glimmering honey-hued water. I asked Christ to personify the swamp and its enigmatic beauty, like a Cajun Aphrodite. The deeper we went, the quieter it got. We shared the simultaneous fear and curiosity inherent in coming across a gator, gathered translucent snail shells, and basked in the glow of the dappled light shining through the flora. Thankfully, the alligators stayed at bay—and these photographs and memories are the fruits of our adventure. ★