Photographs by Charles Martin
Perique, prized by connoisseurs as the strongest and most flavorful of tobacco varietals, is cultivated only one place on earth: a thirty-square-mile tract of land in St. James Parish, Louisiana. Harvested, bunched, and stemmed by hand, the tobacco is pressure-cured for a year in whiskey barrels. The labor-intensive cultivation process dates to the early nineteenth century; its rituals have descended as occupational folklore through a small group of St. James Parish families.
Photographer Charles Martin (b. 1961) spent eight years documenting the tradition of his forebears. Vulnerability lends urgency to this study: only a handful of working farms remain dedicated to perique cultivation, and fewer and fewer young people embrace the agricultural lifestyle of their parents and grandparents.