Calling Buddha.

Once upon a time.

My Spotify playlist brought up a Mudcrutch song. Mudcrutch was the late Tom Petty’s first band. It had an Eagle in it, along with a few members of The Heartbreakers. It was a proto band. Petty decided to release an album of their music in 2006. It couldn’t have come at a better time. It helped us get through the early days after Hurricane Katrina when we sought refuge in New Mexico.

That one song on the playlist brought me to the album, which kicked my rear into gear. Time to start doing the final work on my dual book project, Abandoned New Orleans Books One and Two.

Off I went. Into the archives. I decided to go inside first. Into the buildings as they were, right after Hurricane Katrina. I also decided to let you see some of the pictures. Because? Because why not?

By the way, the line that caught me in that Mudcrutch album was, “”Lord, I’m just an orphan of the storm.” We felt that way.

Because it was still very hot when we returned to the city after the storm, I couldn’t work all day in my house. The heat and humidity was draining. I took breaks by driving around in my car. It had air conditioning It was the only way to get cool. I would stop and make pictures along the way.

Anyway, on to the pictures.

“Calling Buddha” is very close to me. I used to live in that house. It was the last place I lived before I bought the house in Esplanade Ridge. This house used to be in Lakeview. It’s gone now. I liked Lakeview well enough, but it never felt like New Orleans. It was safe and boring. The best thing about living there was that I could walk across the street and have a coffee. Later, I could walk across the street again and have lunch.

It was  on one of my cool-down drives that I decided to look around in Lakeview. If you recall, there were two places were the levees completely failed. The Lower 9th Ward and Lakeview. The water blew through with such intensity that houses were lifted off their foundations. They were dumped on top of other houses. Cars were stacked on top of each other. It looked like a scene from the end of a war. Apparently, the house that I rented had been sold. The kitchen was completely redone. When I lived there, it had a 1950s look and feel. It was wonderful. If you look into the kitchen, you can see wooden Home Depot cabinets.

Anyway.

The backdoor was in tatters so in I went. I had to make pictures. If you look at the crown molding you can see how high the water rose. These folks were lucky the the house stayed on its foundation, which was a cement slab. The rushing, raging water turned everything this way and that. Yet, if you look in the kitchen, there are bowls on the counter just as they were left when the occupants evacuated. Ain’t that something?

Doors, and doors, and doors.

After I settled in a bit, I started roaming around the city. I started looking in Central City a little bit. At that point a lot of the city was empty. It was fairly safe.

I took no chances. Like just about everybody else, I was armed. I remember walking into one of the few open restaurants in the French Quarter, looking around and thinking, pity the fool who comes in thinking he can rob the place. Everybody was wearing guns on their hips. It seemed to be the thing to do. Nobody gave anybody a second look. We shared the restaurant with soldiers from elements of the US Army’s First Cavalry Division and the 82nd Airborne, as well as police from everywhere and members of the Louisiana National Guard. Those guys were armed to the teeth.

Anyway, on one pass through Central City, I found this place. I entered through a broken wall. Somebody had been at work. Whoever it was started the hard work of rebuilding. I guess that person may not have left the city during the storm. A lot of poorer people couldn’t. They didn’t have cars. The busses slated for evacuation were parked in a bowl and were flooded over their roofs. Many of the survivors made their way to the Superdome and the convention center. Places that were supposed to be places of last refuge. They suffered there for days. Most of them were eventually bussed to Houston were they New Orleansized the neighborhoods they settled into. God bless ’em. Others were sent to places like Atlanta while the rest of their family was to someplace like Chicago.

The strangest resettlement happened to us. We rented an apartment in Albuquerque, New Mexico. About a month after we settled there, I walked outside to see my 7th Ward neighbor who lived a few houses from ours. She was staying with her nephew who lived two doors down from our new apartment. If you ever wanted to see two people dance and hug each other, you needed to see us. We were so happy to be alive and know that each other made it. We proceeded to New Orleansize things and have a bar-b-que in the front yard even though we had backyards. Good bless us.

Something mattered.

“The last three days the rain was unstoppable.” Another Tom Petty line.

I made this picture towards the end of the time of my giant house emptying. This time I was able to do what most of us dream of doing. I opened my old office window and threw my water logged computer into the street. How many times have you felt like doing that after your computer crashed for the third time in an hour?

I was looking around the 7th Ward, which had almost been entirely under water during the flood that followed the storm. I was looking into houses that were in a state of partial remediation, which meant that many of them were stripped down to the studs as a way of removing the Aspergillus Mold that grew everywhere in the flooded houses in hot and humid weather. My eye was caught by a little sparkle. I stopped. There it was. A chandelier, hanging by its wires. Something that said, “this is my house.”

There you have it.

We are two weeks from hurricane season. That always spooks me a little. Time to organize some things and buy extra water, batteries and canned food that we’ll never eat unless we need to.

We had God’s own storm early Sunday morning. So much rain was dumped on the city that everywhere flooded. Even our neighborhood, which never floods. Luckily, for us, it did no damage. But, plenty of folks lost their cars. Some water crept into their houses. We all want to blame the city, but not this time. We are city that floods. Time for a t-shirt.

Two more things.

This is long enough already. My publisher was wondering why I have such deep files of abandoned buildings. When I told him, they were stunned. They are based in England. They forgot. Or, barely knew. They haven’t seen my final selection. Just wait until they do. Heh, heh.

There are lots of people who emigrated here after the storm, after the second storm and after the last hurricane. They don’t understand. They think they city will just flood like it does when there is a lot of rainfall. The don’t understand that they need to make an evacuation plan, or figure out what they might need to survive for many weeks without power or running water. Even when I talk about buying supplies that’s for something on the small side. If there is an evacuation order, we are gone. Maybe Hurricane Katrina was a 100 year event. Somehow, with climate change, I don’t think so.

 

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Not always as it seems.
Not always as it seems.

It looks broken.

But, it’s not. It was moved to this location. And, is awaiting repair while the hospital zone is completed. Once all that work is done, this house will be restored to its former grandeur. We are getting close.

It was painful. The neighborhood — an old blue-collar working class place — was flooded after the storm. Very few people returned. When the rebirth of New Orleans began many square blocks were just torn down. I’m still  not sure if that was a great idea. But, the ruined neighborhood was festering and rotting. We needed hospitals. We needed urgent care. We needed a VA hospital. We got those. All have been completed except for the VA hospital which is close to being finished. That brought good jobs and new people to the city. We lost an old neighborhood in a city of old neighborhoods.

The picture. Just some enhancements. I move back and forth between extreme playfulness and sticking closer to my roots. This is somewhere in the middle. But, it is does have some nice late afternoon light falling on it.

As I was reading and copy editing, I realized this could have been turned into something political. Certainly, the metaphors are rife in my writing this morning. However, this is never a political blog. In fact, to prove my New Orleans based beliefs, we aren’t even watching the “big debate” tonight. We are watching American football. The New Orleans Saints v The Atlanta Falcons. It was ten years ago tonight, that the Superdome reopened after the storm, when it became the last shelter of refuge. The Saints, in what was an amazing symbol of rebirth, beat the Falcons in their first game back in New Orleans.

Somehow, this matters to me more than listening to two very disliked presidential candidates lie to each other and the American public.


What remains today.
What remains today.

Out there where the swamps meet the lakes it looks like this.

Not exactly this way. I made this picture look this way. But, the trees are broken. Many are gone. The swamps are dead. The land is desolate. The way you might think that the end of time looks.

Some of this is storm damage. Hurricane Katrina made landfall just a few miles from here. But, it’s been 11 years ago. Nature has a way of healing things. Especially nature’s own things.

This is something different. Much worse. This is the result of land subsidence. This is the loss of our outlying land. And swamps. And, the merging of salt water with lake water. That brackish water is killing the plant life that isn’t used to it. That’s my simplistic and layman’s take on it. There are plenty of places to read more about it. One of the best is http://www.jrconline.org. It’s a science site. Not a political one. It doesn’t grind axes.

That said, this place does make for some striking pictures. I’ve photographed the area mostly in the warmer months. This year I want to work there in the winter months. Well, our winter. Which isn’t really that much of a winter. Even so, it should be truly desolate.

However.

Since I’m on an experimental journey, I thought I’d use a little heavy post production technique. Okay. A lot of photo manipulation. I thought that I would make it brighter and more punchy than my last few pictures. I have two reasons for this. One, the basic scene was blue and green. Converting it to something dark just looked sort of weird. And, not everything around here is bleak and muted. As I always say, let the picture teach you. I think if you rework a picture about 300 or 400 times, eventually the picture will take you to the place where it is supposed to be. I’m not sure that it is there yet, but it stopped me in my tracks while I was working on it.

What do you think? Am I on track? Or, off the rails?


Another haunted place. This time it's in The Garden District.
Another haunted place. This time it’s in The Garden District.

First. You’ve seen this place. At least, you have, in another picture that I’ve posted a while back. But, you haven’t seen it looking like this. It is one of my favorite “haunts” in the Garden District. It would be, even if it wasn’t a three-minute walk for me. It’s an old carriage house that is set far away from the main house. It is not abandoned, but I doubt it sees much use these days. If you pass by enough times, eventually you’ll see that the windows have been opened and closed. You might see the top door — a door to nowhere — opened. I guess the owners go in there still. But, I doubt they do much. If I owned it, it would either be a studio or a workroom of some sort. I could sit upstairs and watch the world pass by. How cool is that? And, there is a lot of world passing by… mostly people with cameras taking pictures of this place. Notice. I didn’t say tourists. After all, I live here and I took a picture. Maybe I am a tourist, after all. Maybe not. I’ve been roaming about for too long. Likely, I fall into the traveler class. That may not be what the locals think of me, but…

The picture. I made it toward dusk. I had about half a discussion with a photographer and friend of mine who complimented me by saying that often times when she sees work that has been heavily modified in post production, the picture still isn’t so good. But, she added, that my pictures are good. Those are my words, but she said something very close to that. Thank you for that. But, I started thinking about it. When I was in school, there was a new trend in newspapers. They ran huge photographs on all of their section fronts. That’s good. And, bad. The content, concept and quality has to be there. If not, as a professor of mine used to say that, “all you have a big bad picture.” The same sentiment applies here as well.  You still have to make a reasonably good picture before you start messing with it. You still have to follow whatever internal conventions you’ve created in order to put yourself in a place to make a picture at all. You know. Things like time of day, favorite subject matter, how you frame in order to support your vision. Stuff like that. That doesn’t go away just because you know you are going to do some heavy manipulation later. In fact, it may actually have to be stronger. Stronger because you are going to hide some of that in heavy post production. Get that right and all the rest is icing on the cake.

So. What did I do? After making a good base image, I bleached it and took out some color. This would be replaced later, with another other more moody color palette. Then I starting working on the shadows and details. Finally, I finished it by adding scratches and defects. This is an often used technique to make the overly clean and machine-like quality of digital images look a little more organic and analog-like. Who knows about that? Maybe we should just go back to film when we worked hard to keep these defects out of the picture.