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.
By around 10:30 pm, the night before the big event, everything changed. No storm surge. The river would only rise to 17 feet. Well below flood level. And, the rain will average around 6 inches over 24 hours in New Orleans.
Yes. It’s windy. We may still lose power. So, I’m writing this around midnight just in case.
A grateful city is happy. I’m happy.
I’m so disappointed in national news coverage. The Washington Post flat out printed fake news. NOLA Twitter responded as only we could. The same thing happened with national television stations. Worse, the gold standard, The BBC went beyond fake news.
As many of you know, I started my career as a photojournalist. I made pictures. I edited. I managed photo staffs. I built a chain of weekly newspapers within a daily newspaper. I would have never published the nonsense I read today.
The Post said something about how fearful we were. And, that we were fleeing. Nobody that I know was fearful. Some people with children left. Family first. But, they weren’t panicked. We’ve been through this before.
The city, state, even the federal government got involved. We had emails, tweets and texts. There were the obligatory press conferences and so on. That was all good.
I remember that prior to the evacuation for Hurricane Katrina, a lot of my neighbors said they weren’t leaving because the city always reacted to potential hurricanes extremely and nothing ever came of it.
The rest is history.
When do people start disregarding hurricane lead ups again? What happens when the real deal occurs again and people don’t take it seriously?
Beyond my pay grade. I guess the Mercedes Dome will be a place of last refuge again.
One more thing.
I’m speaking only about New Orleans. I’m sure it will be rough when Barry makes landfall, wherever it makes landfall.
They said it as late as last night’s 6 pm news. They said a hurricane was coming. They said a tropical storm was coming. They all lied. At least they did that late in the day. When anybody could log into NOAA, the national weather service, and see nothing was coming.
No rain. No wind. Not a drop. Not a breeze.
For the weather folks on all the local channels it’s about market share. They howl. They scream. They scare people. For bigger ad revenue. You wonder why the guy in The White Houses whines so much about fake news. This is a perfect reason. And, it’s getting worse everywhere.
They used to say in the HAM Radio world, “all noise, no signal.” Back then it meant all they could get was static and couldn’t find a clear signal to communicate. The internet latched onto that saying a few years ago. With all sorts of social media to compete with traditional mainstream news sources, it ‘s gotten much worse. It’s gotten to the point that everybody has to scream in order to be heard.
And, nobody is heard.
Nike and Colin Kaepernick did an end run. One advertisement. No words from Kaepernick except retweets. Silence. Golden silence. And, the whole world is listening. Some people are destroying their clothes. How silly. Some people are burning their shoes. I just hope they aren’t wearing them while they do that. Other people, like me, think it’s great. Since Nike provides NFL uniforms, they put them back on their heels by taking a stand. A strong stand.
My point isn’t about the rightness or wrongness of Nike’s or Kaepernick’s actions. My point is that he and they broke through all the noise. They were quiet.
Maybe we should take a lesson from that.
The picture. Clear, wonderful skies. Just like last night, just like this morning.
One more thing. I am not saying we shouldn’t talk when we have something to say. Absolutely talk. Don’t be silent about what matters to you or to me.
And, yet another thing. Make no mistake. I’m grateful that nothing happened here. Where the tropical storm did land, a child was killed in a mobile home. I’m very sorry for that. Even then, I’m happy that was the extent. It could have been a large number of deaths. Think Puerto Rico. Think Hurricane Katrina. Yes. I’m very grateful.
I’ll shut up now. It’s time to listen to my own words.
As of now, the storm has slowed down a bit. We should get rain and winds along towards the end of the afternoon with the storm passing through around midnight. Or, after midnight as J.J, Cale wrote and Eric Clapton sang.
It’s a Category 1 Hurricane, which means the lowest possible wind speed that you can classify as a hurricane. It should make landfall at the Mississippi – Alabama border. I mention all of this again, because my friends have been calling and texting. When something like this makes the national news it becomes something frightening.
And, we’ll be alright.
The picture. I had something else planned for today, but I saw this on a dog walk. It was funny. She — the dog — walked to this place and kept circling around. It wasn’t like she does when she’s looking for a place. It was more like every time I wanted to move on, she kept coming back. To the place that you see in the picture. So, I made a bunch of pictures. After all, she’s usually right about a lot of things.
She also wanted to be outside longer than normal. She won’t go out in the rain. She knows something is coming.
I owe you all an apology. I haven’t been telling many stories lately. My efforts have been half-baked. I’m not sure why.
Yeah. It’s been un-Godly hot. Many of us have been talking about it. It’s a different kind of heat than we are used to. There is a second line on August 23rd. A week or so from now. The season is starting. Already. Seems like it just ended. I was talking to a photographer friend of mine about it. He’s like me. He’s out on the street every week. He’s not looking forward to it. I’m not either.
But, that’s not it. That’s an easy excuse.
I’ve just been in a weird funk. I feel like I’ve lost a little of my mojo. I can work when I get paid. I can’t work for myself. You tell me. Which on is really more important? There seems to be a lot of that going on. Some of my blogging buddies have been talking about writing blocks. Some took a break. A few took a break saying that they would return. They’ve yet to return.
I’ve been also sort of denying a few things. We are two weeks away from the ten-year anniversary of something that changed my life. My city’s life. Just about everybody’s life who lived in New Orleans. I lost a house. I relocated to New Mexico for a time. I came back. Some of us did and some of us didn’t. For those of us who returned, so much changed. For a while that was okay. But, then it wasn’t.
My way of dealing with the decade anniversary of the storm making landfall at Buras, Louisiana on August 29, 2005, was to ignore it. But, that’s not possible. There is no media outlet in world that is letting this pass without publishing as many stories as possible about it. My hometown newspaper, which has morphed into NOLA.com, published a story that contains a database of every possible story that they published about Katrina. They should. They worked throughout the earliest days of storm recovery. They were journalistic heroes. The New York Times has been publishing at least three stories a week about New Orleans and our recovery. The Chicago Tribune chimed in with an editorial written by an idiot — yes, that’s the only way to describe her — saying that Chicago needs their own Hurricane Katrina to serve as sort of a reset button. Yes. The Tribune is backtracking. But, still… I would never wish a storm like Katrina on anybody.
Anyway. My friend and fellow photographer, George Long, posted something on the local photographer’s group on Facebook about this place. It is the New Orleans Katrina Memorial. He asked if we knew it existed. I certainly didn’t. But, as you already have learned about me, there’s a lot I don’t know. There are things I discover that people have known about for years. Oh well. Perfection is for angels.
I decided to go there yesterday. I decided a lot. In about ten minutes. Here’s some of what I decided.
I went to the memorial at around noon. The worst time of day to work. And, around the hottest part of the day. I want to feel the heat of the day. I wanted to feel what it felt like during the summer of Katrina. Nobody was there. Just me. I want to make you feel it too. Light shouldn’t matter. Deal with it.
I decide to photograph the memorial through my eyes. There are traditional ways to photograph these things. There is also a more personal way. I chose the latter way of working. I need to do that more often.
I put myself back on a picture a day schedule. For 14 days. Two weeks. I will post my own memorial to the storm. Everything you see will be a day old. At most. You will see it the way I see it. The pictures will all have some storm reference. I will take you back to places you may have seen in the past. Maybe not. That’s a lot of work. It’s worth it. For me. For you.
On August 29th, there will be memorials all over the city and region. I don’t know which one I’ll photograph. But rest assured, I’ll be there. Somewhere.
All of those points are a real change in my thinking. You know that if you been reading Storyteller for any length of time.
Okay? Good? Any ideas?
So. These pictures. First, I didn’t mess around with them most in post production. Mostly, I’ve corrected contrast, highlights and shadows. I’ve helped the color. But, that’s it. This is more like photojournalism, Magnum style. One more thing. I didn’t touch or move anything. You see what I found and photographed.
I found the stuffed animal almost right off. Somebody left it as their own memorial. It hasn’t been there long, but already mold is starting to claim it.
The second picture is a very short version of the Katrina story. The things to know about this place was that it was given birth by the Coroner of New Orleans. Every funeral home helped out. There are 21 unidentified bodies here. There are an additional 62 unclaimed bodies buried. That makes a total of 83. Nobody knows why some bodies weren’t claimed. Likely, they belonged to families who had no idea what happened to their kin. They probably still don’t know.
The third picture is a summer picture. The wreath is faded. Grass cuttings have been spewed onto the memorial stone. By the way, there are no names on these stones.
The fourth picture is about me. Dried flowers and my shadow. I think I said it. This is personal.
The fifth picture is a study in contrasts. Pine branches are evergreen. They grow forever. Supposedly. The stuff in the background is left over from either the storm itself, or, from the building of the memorial. I’m not sure which one. There was nobody around to ask.
The sixth picture is the memorial logo on the memorial fence.
Not to worry. Not every post on every day will be this long. Or, anywhere near this long. I just had a lot to tell you today.
While I was poking around in The Lower Ninth Ward and I found that odd little house displaying The American Flag, I also made pictures of broken glass, broken windows and rusty walls. I just sort of photographed whatever I saw. When I was editing my take — no, make that curating my take — I sort of watched a little collection of pictures come together without my help. Yep. They did it by themselves. That’s probably just as well. Pictures are better at doing that than I am.
Anyway. It’s just a little exercise in seeing details.
But, it seems to be a really good metaphor for the entire Lower Ninth Ward. Everything is broken. Even the newly repaired stuff.
Seeing the picture is just a matter of looking. And reacting. Post production is simple. Mostly, I just made sure the details are as sharp as they can be without looking overdone.
Okay. Usually I know something about the pictures that I publish on Storyteller. Not this time. Everything confuses me. I know this house was under some pretty deep water after Hurricane Katrina blew through New Orleans. This particular area is located on the river side of the Lower Ninth Ward. This side was heavily flooded, but not completely devastated like the other side of The Lower Ninth. These are guesses. But, I suspect when the owner was able to return, he started to remediate his house. He must have decided to display his pride and patriotism. So he hung an American flag. You know, that sort of “don’t tread on me” thing. Something stopped him in mid-stride. I walked through the house. The back-end burned after he took down the inner walls. That may be what caused him to stop. But, again. I’m just guessing. The other confusing thing about the picture are the house’s inner walls. Those thick boards are barge wood. In the 1700s and early 1800s, barges were floated down the Mississippi River to bring supplies and people. At the time, there was no way to bring them back up river so they broke the barges up and used them for building wood. It usually found its way into many early homes. My first house in New Orleans was made of barge wood. It was finished in lathe and plaster. But, it was built in 1834. This house is much newer than that. There very earliest that it could have been built was during the very late 1800s. Maybe 1890 or so. By then, houses were framed in a more modern way. And finished with lathe and plaster. The barge wood in this house was covered with finishing wood.
More research is required.
The picture was one of many I made when I walked through the open door. I’m very careful about investigating old buildings. They call this an UrbEx picture. That Urban Exploration. Normally, you take certain precautions when you do this. You carry a flashlight. You usually bring a buddy. You dress in work boots or shoes. You wear thicker clothing. You make sure that your cellphone is with you. Just in case. But, that’s for walking through big buildings. Buildings like old factories. Train Stations. Hospitals. But, you can see the width and depth of this house. That narrow door opens into what was a kitchen area and then into one more back room which could have been a bedroom. There is a bathroom near the kitchen. That’s it. I was pretty sure that I didn’t need to take all of the normal precautions. The rest was easy. Point and shoot.
Doors. I have this thing about Doors. No. Not The Doors. They were a great band, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about… oh, never mind. You see the pictures. Within a few hours of finally being home, I just had to run out and make a bunch of pictures. I immediately resumed my Central City project and I went back to the building with the graffiti. So. Let me talk about what you are looking at. The top picture is just on the edge of Central City. I was attracted to the all the signs and flags more than I was to the door. But, the door made a great subject from which to build my composition. The second door — the inside door on the outside — was also made in Central City. I suppose this building was about to fall down anyway. But, when Hurricane Isaac struck last summer, it tore off the entire side of an apartment building. If you look at it from the front or the other side, the building looks fine. But, when you walk around to the downriver side of the building, not so much. Kind of like a movie set. I’ve also made some overall images, which show the situation much clearer. I’ll post one eventually. Finally. The doorway to nowhere. I went back to that building with the graffiti. I approached it from another side. I found this door. I also could smell cooking. My homeless friends were cooking over a grill. They asked if I was hungry. There you go.
So. These pictures. The making of them was pretty simple. Poke around. Find them. Photograph them. The fun is in the post production when I try to make my normally bright and energetic pictures look a little more beat up and muted.
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.