So, I played with everything that I could in post production without going too far. I suppose this is a kind of art, but I’m not sure. It could just be a mess. Ironically, in my world of typos I originally wrote that, “I could just be a mess.” That’s probably closer to the real story.
These two houses are located very near to the one in yesterday’s post. The neighborhood wasn’t in the best shape when the storm arrived. When Katrina blew through it sort of dealt a death blow to the area. Houses stood. Brick buildings remained. The streets were still there. But, for the first couple of years of recovery this area was a ghost town. People didn’t start returning until at least 2012, seven years after the big event.
That’s how it went. Many people were forced to take the long way home either by lack of funds, or by FEMA, or by the passing of a loved one either during or after the storm. Some people never came back.
This is an odd subject to write about during the holiday season. Once our holidays are upon us they don’t stop. Christmas, followed by New Year, followed by The Twelfth Night, followed by Carnival and Mardi Gras, followed by the Lenten season. And, finally Easter.
I suppose that I want to remember my thoughts as they come to me. It’s the end of the year. The end of the decade. These little histories matter to me, if nobody else.
After all, somebody might ask me how I spent my decade. Probably not.
I have a question.
I’m going to publish my ten best pictures of the decade right here on Storyteller. The editing wasn’t as hard as I imagined. Storyteller is ten years old. The decade is ten years old. My signature pictures — the ones that I didn’t make on assignment — are all right here in my archive.
When do you think I should publish them? All the big publications have already published their “best lists.” I could do it next week, or I could do it the week in between Christmas and New Year. What’s your pleasure?
It’s hard to believe that it’s been that long. Time doesn’t matter. Like anyone who was in New Orleans at the time, I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember evacuating from Hurricane Katrina. I remember coming home to see my house had flooded. I remember my neighborhood looking destroyed. I remember seeing neighbors in far away places. I remember all of us being so happy that we were alive that when we ran into each other we danced in the streets. I’m sure New Mexicans thought we were nuts. We were.
I remember the essential goodness of people. I remember trading computer lessons for home cooked plates of soul food. I remember neighbors helping neighbors. I remember my friend helping me carry the big furniture out of my house and piling it up along the curb. I remember my neighbor, who I call Uncle Joe, telling me not to go see the other neighborhoods because it was all too much. I remember taking a self tour and coming back to my house, shell shocked. I remember Uncle Joe saying, ” like a moth to a flame…”
I remember this day, fourteen years ago.
Today, we all still get a little weird. I suspect we all have a form of PTSD that peaks on this day. I’m pretty sure that we all learned a lot. We learned about our strength. And, our resilience. We learned to get angry with the proper people — FEMA. We learned how to rebuild.
Make no mistake. We aren’t done yet. There are still wide swathes of the city that still aren’t anywhere near whole. The Lower 9th Ward is one of them. I’m not sure it will ever be. There are streets and houses that still carry the scars of the storm.
There are daily reminders too. A car was pulled out of an underground canal just last week. It’s likely it was there for fourteen years. It is also likely that it is a Katrina car.
Today is a day to reflect. A day to mourn the folks who died. And, a day to celebrate those who made it back.
As I write, Hurricane Dorian is churning through the Caribbean. It looks like it will be a category 4 hurricane when it makes landfall somewhere in the middle of the eastern Florida cost. God speed to those folks. It may continue on, striking the gulf side of the state. For now, it look like it will turn to the north. At least that’s what the predictive models say. Or, it could head towards us.
Once upon a time, Storyteller had some structure to it. Sundays posts used to be for experimental pictures. Monday, and a day or two afterward, used to be for second line parades and so on. And, on, and, on.
I moved away from that.
Because. I’m supposed to be an artist. I’m supposed to be random and spontaneous. Mostly, I just got lazy. Mostly, I had a hard time filling each day. And… now that I’m pretty much done chasing every Sunday’s second line parades, I don’t have the new work to fill the days in any sort of order. So, I post whatever is new.
But, I think I need a little structure. Not to be entirely predictable, but to give my own brain a little sense of order on these pages.
Let’s start with Sunday experiments. I used to do that every Sunday. I’d just tinker with pictures — as I still do today — whenever the mood struck me. But, I’d only publish them on Sunday. So, that’s what you are seeing today. Experiments.
The picture. One of those 9th Ward buildings that never returned for the storm with a little help from OnOne and my own mind. It’s probably a good idea to post this today as an homage to those folks who are recovering from their own “storm” in Haiti, Cuba, on Caribbean Islands and along the United States Mid-Atlantic Coast.
This house has been abandoned for 11 years. Don’t let this happen to you if you are shaking your heads and looking at nature’s fresh destruction. The best way to recover and heal from this destruction is to repair it immediately. As in, now. For a while it is your life. Live it. It will get better. I promise.
I found a way inside. That wasn’t so hard. The side door was open. I walked in. It’s a little weird entering a big building. You never know who or what is lurking inside. I generally creep around quietly. But, I’d rather have a little backup. Although, I’m not exactly sure what good that would do if things went south.
Before I write further, please drop to the bottom picture. Remember that? I showed you that place about a week or so ago. The top three pictures are from the inside. I made them maybe two days ago.
You know how I like to tinker with pictures to give the viewer a sense of what I felt. Check out the top picture. Looks like I did that, right? Wrong. It looks just about how I found it. I didn’t have to do anything. What you are seeing is a building rotting away.
The second picture is a little weird for me to look at closely. That was the food store. See those boarded up doors way up in front, in the middle right? Where the light is peeking through? The last time I was inside, I walked through those doors. Although the store was already abandoned, it still looked like a store. The doors were still made of glass.
You might also notice that big square of light on the floor. The roof is three stories up. That means there is a hole in the roof and the two floors in between. Normally, that means fire damage. There aren’t any burn marks.
The third picture shows how I really entered a couple of days ago. See? It really wasn’t all that difficult.
You know what the bottom picture is. You’ve seen it. Not all that long ago.
Eight years. Funny how time flies. As you know, I rarely publish pictures or words that aren’t mine. I do that for a number of reasons. Most of them are mostly about artistic integrity. Some are for legal reasons. Others are simply because I don’t see the point in aggregating or curating other’s work. There are plenty of other bloggers who do that. And, they do that well. After all, I produce my own work. I do not see a time when I’ll stop. It’s what I do. But, every now and then, a moment comes when I either have to commemorate it or reflect on it… something that was so terrible that I must move beyond the limited scope of my work. I hope that you understand.
August 29, 2005. Hurricane Katrina made landfall at Buras, Louisiana. It headed towards New Orleans . It rained hard. The winds blew hard. The levees broke. And, the city flooded. So, did much of the region. You know the rest. We suffered as a neighborhood. We suffered as a city. We suffered as a state. We suffered as a region. We suffered as a country. It’s all history. I’m not here to rehash anything. I’m just here to remember… and reflect. And, think. Nothing else. At the end of the day, I’ve moved on. I’ve worked hard. I moved to New Mexico for some years. I returned. To New Orleans. The call of my adopted home was just too strong. I lost some things. And, I gained others. I can tell you that the things that I lost were not important. They things I gained are far more precious.
Later today, there will be bell ringing ceremony, a moment of silence and the scattering of flowers on the water. But, I won’t be attending. It’s not that important to me. Instead, I will be photographing in The Lower Ninth Ward. It is there that people suffered as much or more than the other neighborhood in New Orleans. Today, it’s pretty quiet in the area closest to the canal. A few people have returned. They live in homes that they had built or that were built by actor Brad Pitt’s Make it Right organization. Much of the area has returned to nature. We have a phrase, “it ain’t der no mo’. ” Well , for the most part, the Lower Ninth Ward — at least on the lake side of Claiborne Avenue – ain’t der no mo. To be sure, much of New Orleans has returned and recovered, perhaps better than before the storm. New construction abounds. More new people have moved to the city. They seem to be helping us. They are young. They are energetic. They are helping to shape things that are good for the city. But, things are different. My friends say that. I feel it. That’s okay. Eventually, I’ll feel more at home. Things change. And, that’s good.
These pictures. First off, let me be very clear. I didn’t make, take, photograph, capture or snap any of the pictures that you see in front of you. Nor, are they the most memorable or famous pictures that were produced in the days, weeks, months and years that followed. Here’s why. The very best storytelling images are owned by the photographers who made them. Their rights are protected. As they should be. The images on this post are memorable because they document the after effects of the storm. Most are not well-known. Besides, I’m a photographer. Some say I’m an artist. I don’t like it when somebody steals — er, borrows — my work. So. I won’t do it to someone else. These pictures were curated from images provided by Wiki Commons, NOAA, FEMA or the DOD. The short of it is simple. I already own them. So do you. So does every United States citizen. They are ours. Well, the exception is Wiki. But, their contributors are generous enough to share them and the rules of Creative Commons. Look at them, enjoy them. Think about them They are all part of our collective memories.
If you ever get the idea that making these sorts of pictures is easy for me, let me tell you. It is.
Let me show you why. “Torn and Tattered” was made in Central City. It was one my favorite buildings there. One side is totally destroyed. That’s what you see in the picture. But, the front and street side of the building are in good enough repair to make the building look habitable. It is a lot like New Orleans. On the surface it looks great, but poke around a bit. Then there is “Abandoned.” You’ve seen another view of this old church in the past. It’s located in The Holy Cross section of the Lower Ninth Ward. The church was closed, and then abandoned, sometime after the storm. It is for sale today. Finally, “Functioning… Barely.” The building is located on Royal Street in The French Quarter. It’s probably my favorite building since it looks like an old Parisienne building. People live there. But, I wonder how.
So. There you have it. My secret. These buildings are everywhere. I couldn’t possible documenting all of the them. Or, even 20% of them. I’m too old. If I was 18 years old, I’d be too old. Too much. Too much.
So. I met this guy a few weeks ago when I was poking around what is now called “The New Bywater.” New Bywater, indeed. It’s a an area of the Upper Ninth Ward. At one time it was downriver from a neighborhood called St. Roch. Well. It still is. The neighborhood didn’t move. It was just renamed. By realtors. While St. Roch was mostly built and developed by Germans, this area was developed by Italians. In fact, the building that Scot — that’s his name — is standing near, is actually Italianate in design. But, you wouldn’t know it. Not today.
So who is this guy? Well, he’s the king of this particular block of Marais Street. That’s not what he calls himself. He’s actually a pretty smart and well read guy. We talked for a while on a variety of topics. He also was a reporter for the Times-Picyune for ten years. He knows the area very well. Unlike a lot of guys I photograph in neighborhoods like these, he didn’t ask for anything except for a few pictures. I sent them today via email. He is living in the only functional and habitable house on the street. He looks after the others for their owners. Yes. This neighborhood was heavily flooded during Hurricane Katrina. The difference between this area and The Lower Ninth Ward is simple. The buildings in the Lower Ninth Ward were mostly swept away by powerful water. In this neighborhood, the houses took on 12 or 15 feet of water, but the water flow wasn’t strong enough to move the buildings. So, they sit in various stages of remediation. Or not. Some are just abandoned. They can be bought for very little money if you can find the legal owner. As you get closer to the main street in the area — St. Claude — many of the houses have been rebuilt by a new population. Hipsters.
The picture. The photographic technique is simple. The approach is also simple. Smile. Talk to the subject. And, ask if I could take his picture. Oh yeah. Make sure that I kept my promise. Send him some pictures.
Things are going to get a little busy around my normal posting time, so here goes. Sunday. Oh yeah. That’s gonna get a little weird too. I’ll deal with that later.
Anyway. A few weeks ago, I took a couple of out-of-town friends on a tour of The Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans. They were pretty amazed that not more property had been repaired and restored. They also were pretty unimpressed with the Make It Right Homes. Brad Pitt’s project. I have to say, that after a few years, those Disney-like homes look pretty worn and tattered. So. I decided to go back and work. I usually go back and wander around every month or so. But, I’ve been a little busy and I haven’t gotten back as often as I should. I went back on a good day for what I was feeling. Dark. Stormy. Bleak. I don’t care how many homes have been built by Make It Right, or the few that have been built by home owners who managed to cobble together enough money to rebuild, it still looks and feels very sad. It’s coming to eight years.
This picture. Hmmmm… Music was the key. I played a somewhat new Neil Young song called Ramada Inn. It’s long. I still managed to play it about five or six times. The lyrics have nothing to do with this place. They are about a couple who have been married “for forever” and alcohol is getting in the way. But, the melody just set the tone for this work. Dark. Brooding.