Fishing in the flooded Bonnet Carré Spillway with moored tankers in background, near Norco (detail); 2015; © Richard Sexton; The Historic New Orleans Collection, 2015.0364.51


September 17, 2019 to April 5, 2020

Tuesday–Saturday, 9:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m.
Sunday, 10:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m.

520 Royal Street

Admission is free.

Due to the coronavirus outbreak, this exhibition is temporarily closed. Click here to view the virtual exhibition.
Click to learn about the exhibition catalog, which is available for purchase at independent books stores and major online retailers.

As it churns toward its terminus in southeastern Louisiana, the Mississippi River becomes a wide, muddy superhighway of activity, matched in might only by the megastructures of heavy industry that line its banks. The section of the river from Baton Rouge to New Orleans doubles as one of the most potent economic corridors in the country. For two decades, photographer Richard Sexton has explored this complicated region. Intrigued by juxtapositions between innovation and decay, the commercial and the residential, the manmade and the natural, he has documented in Enigmatic Stream: Industrial Landscapes of the Lower Mississippi River a quintessentially American conundrum: our insatiable desire to exploit the lower Mississippi River’s potential while still leaving room for life along its banks.

Enigmatic Stream features more than one hundred black-and-white photographs by Sexton, accented by other materials drawn from and inspired by the Mississippi River, capturing the essence of a complicated and often mysterious section of the country’s largest waterway. The exhibition’s companion catalog features select photographs from Enigmatic Stream and essays by Sexton, curator John Lawrence, and author Paul Schneider.

More on Enigmatic Stream:

Family Activities

Enigmatic Stream activity sheet
available in the exhibition


Between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, the Mississippi River is a natural wonder, teeming with wildlife and natural beauty while also doubling as one of the country’s most potent industrial corridors. To help visitors of all ages engage with Enigmatic Stream: Industrial landscapes of the Lower Mississippi River, The Historic New Orleans Collection has created an activity sheet that challenges young visitors to reconcile the natural beauty of the river with the industrial structures that line it. The activity sheet gives participants space to draw their own landscapes, based on images in the exhibitions, and prompts them to tell stories of their own that are inspired by Richard Sexton’s photographs. Activity sheets are free and available in the exhibition gallery at 520 Royal Street.


Art Rocks: Episode 717; Photographer Richard Sexton

Gambit: Richard Sexton explores the petrochemical corridor in his ‘Enigmatic Stream' photo exhibit

The Hill: Haunting photos of America's conflict between industry and nature

The Louisiana Weekly: New visual book relives life and commerce along the Mississippi River

The New Criterion: The father of waters

Oxford American: Eyes on the South: Artist of Industry

WWNO-FM: The Reading Life with Richard Sexton and Poppy Tooker

Public Programs

“Enigmatic Stream” closing conversation: Living and Working along the Lower Mississippi River
Wednesday, April 1, 2020 | 6 p.m.
520 Royal Street
Admission is free, and registration is required.

Register Now!


For centuries, inhabitants have sought to shape, control, and harness the Mississippi River. THNOC’s current publication and exhibition, Enigmatic Stream: Industrial Landscapes of the Lower Mississippi River, which closes Sunday, April 5, challenges audiences to confront the paradoxes that occur when nature, industry, and communities overlap and entangle. Join us as photographer Richard Sexton, author Paul Schneider, and THNOC’s John Lawrence discuss historical perceptions of the river and reflections on how we live, work, and experience it today.


Enigmatic Stream guided tours
Tuesday–Sunday at 10:30 a.m.
520 Royal Street

Admission is $5; free for THNOC members

In Enigmatic Stream: Industrial Landscapes of the Lower Mississippi River, photographer Richard Sexton presents landscapes of hulking oil refineries, petrochemical plants, agricultural complexes, and flood prevention structures set within the natural beauty of the country’s largest waterway. Guided tours of the exhibition delve into Sexton’s chosen aesthetic and process, contextualize the economic history of the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, and challenge visitors to consider the risks and benefits of these structures. Tours last between 30 and 45 minutes and take place entirely within the exhibition gallery.

Register Now!