Daylight again, following me to bed
I think about a hundred years ago, how my fathers bled
I think I see a valley, covered with bones in blue
All the brave soldiers that cannot get older been askin’ after
Hear the past a callin’, from Armegeddon’s side
When everyone’s talkin’ and no one is listenin’, how can we
Do we find the cost of freedom, buried in the ground
Mother earth will swallow you, lay your body down
Find the cost of freedom, buried in the ground
Mother earth will swallow you, lay your body down
(Find the cost of freedom buried in the ground)
Written by Stephen Stills/Wixen Music
Preformed by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young
Battered and broken. We persisted. The Lower 9th Ward. New Orleans.
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.
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?
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.
“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.
The more that I work on this project, the more the memories start to return. We left New Orleans on Sunday, August 28 2005. In the morning. We put all the things that we wanted to take with us in a pile on the floor. Cameras. Computers. Digital files. Legal documents. Financial and insurance documents. Medical stuff. Some keepsakes. That sort of stuff. And, very few clothes. The spaniel, who knows everything before humans do, added her favorite toys. She made sure that her toys went into the car. She sat on the pile until they were sure that her stuff was packed too.
We didn’t take many clothes because we didn’t think about being gone for very long. As I recall, I took enough clothes for about a week. All light summer clothes. I can’t even remember if I took long pants. It was very hot that day. That summer. About like this one. I took flip-flops and running shoes.
I locked the house and the gate. We pulled into the street. We saw our neighbor, Mr. Joe. At the time, he was in his late 70s. He lived sort of catty corner from our house. We stopped to ask what he was going to do. Leave? Or stay? He said that he was staying and would look after our house. I remember wishing him, “God Speed,” and we hit the road. I had no idea that was the last time we’d live in that house. Or, the our neighborhood would be so badly flooded. Luckily, I did see Mr. Joe again, unlike many of my former neighbors. He lives in a factory built home that looks like the house he originally lived in when we were neighbors. Right on the corner. If I remember correctly, he is now about 87 or 88 years old. He’s one of those wiry guys. He’s got more energy than me. He’ll probably out live all of us.
That’s my story for today.
The pictures. I’ve driven by this place a hundred times. I never stopped. Today, I did. I stopped because the number two caught my attention. It’s my second day of this project and there is that big number two. How’s that for a sign? No pun intended.
I’m not sure if this business closed before the storm. But, I can see the remnants of flood waters. I can see what’s left of a Katrina Cross. I can see that it has been multiple businesses. Oh, and the bottom picture is really just a scene setter for the top picture. The yellow building is a social club. The kind that sponsors and pays for second line parades. They are likely mowing the lawn in front of the old cleaners. That’s what we, in New Orleans, do. That’s especially what social clubs do for their neighborhoods.
This picture was kind of a lucky one. The day was cooling off and the light was okay. It’s my usual kind of picture about remains. Ruins. Junk. Not to worry. I actually planned project this out. I’m happy to say that it’s pretty balanced between broken places and new, restored and made-even-better places. The list isn’t complete and likely it will be filled out opportunistically, but it isn’t a downer. And, I am sticking to my picture a day workflow. I could take a shortcut and photograph a couple of places in a day, but what would be the fun in that? Besides, I’m on a mission.
A little housekeeping.
I’m sorry if I haven’t replied to emails from your blogs. My email has been compromised by the very people who host my commercial website. For some reason, somebody employed by them went into the site and pointed my email settings back to their old third-party email provider. On a Friday night. About midnight. That service was terrible and after years of problems, they — Livebooks — finally decided to fix the issue, by no longer offering email with their hosting service.
Fine with me.
I switched to Go Daddy for email pretty seamlessly last June and haven’t had a problem since except for a systemic failure that actually made the news. Every morning is no longer an exercise is terror.
Unlike the rest of the digital world, Livebooks doesn’t offer customer service on a weekend. I suppose that was the point of repointing my email connection on a Friday. night. Unfortunately, they control the website underpinnings and they control their end of the administration. They have to repoint my email connections. I can’t do that remotely. I’m sure they’ll do this on Monday. It’ll take a while to propagate the connection.
I’m sure I’ll start shopping for a new commercial website hosting company right after that. That’s fine with me, too. I really don’t think Livebooks has the kind of revenue to remain stable. They just raised their hosting rates. But, not for me or people like me. We are grandfathered into their oldest plans. In fact, in 2013, they almost went of business until a wedding website bought and saved them. For me, that’ll mean another new redesign. And, a bunch of work I hadn’t planned on. I’m actually thinking of combining my two websites, here on Storyteller. While WordPress can be a little frustrating at times, they do have pretty good customer service. And, they do work on the weekend.
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.
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.
These three pictures are the last of my Lower Ninth Ward visit. I have a few more images from that day, but it’s getting to be time to move on. Not to worry. I’ll go back again. And again. And… again. I’m not sure what more I can add to this post. I think, once our traveling settles down, in about three weeks, I’ll start working harder in Central City and out here. In the Lower Ninth Ward. These are stories that need to be told. Need to be documented. Need to be photographed. There. For those of you who keep saying a book, a book, a book… maybe there is one.
The pictures are pretty documentary. Find the subject. Make the exposure. Make the picture. In post production, I try to find the color palette and other modifications to bring the proper feel to the pictures. That’s about it.
In New Orleans we like color. I love color. You know that. This is a bit much. I was tooling around one day in Lower Ninth Ward, on the river side. This part of the area was not completely destroyed by Hurricane Katrina and the breach of the levees as it was across Claiborne Avenue on what we would call the lake side. Buildings and houses were flooded here by very deep water. But, they weren’t ripped off their foundations. The weren’t broken in two. And, they weren’t torn apart.
However, it did take the residents a long time to either remediate and rebuild their property, or sell their damage houses.
When people finally did get moving on their houses, strange things started happening. Since many people were not insured for replacement value of their homes, they had to work with what money they managed to cobble together. The rebuilt cheaply and they bought what they could at discount prices. At a time when there were no discount prices. Often you see it in the exteriors of the buildings. Bright paint. It’s not so fashionable, so it doesn’t cost as much as more trendy colors. And, check it out. This yellow house, which at one time may have been a grocery store, bakery or some other local shop, is not the only bright building in the picture. Right next door on our left is a bright blue house. Look in the background to the right. Red houses. It looks like this neighborhood got a special deal on primary colored paint. It doesn’t really matter. These folks rebuilt and moved back home. They are tough people. Very tough people.
The picture. It just had to find the house and make the picture. And, expose it properly to bring out the saturation.