The thing that I saw.

This is what I saw.

I told you about this yesterday. I made this picture in the Lower 9th Ward. Houses stacked on other houses. Houses stacked on cars. Cars completely left to die after the water finally receded.

The Lower 9th Ward was a vibrant community on the downriver side of the Industrial Canal. It more-or-less sat by itself away from the rest of New Orleans. It started out as small truck farms feeding the restaurants of The French Quarter. Most of the folks who resided there lived in old family homes, many of which were built between 1900 and maybe 1930. They were smallish. They were insured for replacement costs when they were built. The houses passed from family member to family with out a deed or proof of mortgage.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

Without the proper paperwork, FEMA funds and LRA funds were unavailable to the people who just lost everything. They might be able to file an insurance claim and be paid at full value. But, a house built at 1,200 square feet that cost maybe $8,000 to build in 1920, cost about $200,000 to replace. The current family members didn’t have that kind of money. The original insurance had never been upgraded and they couldn’t qualify for Federal money.

The community pretty much died.

Sure.

There was actor Brad Pitt’s foundation called Make It Right, who built maybe 40 new homes clustered around one or two streets. That didn’t make a dent. Worse, the very high end architects who volunteered to design energy efficient modern homes didn’t design houses for our very extreme climate. A number of them have serious issues. One was demolished because it couldn’t be repaired. Make It Right doesn’t seem to want to repair the others. As usual, the whole thing is ending up in court.

That’s the story.

Thank you all for your comments and good wishes. They matter. A lot.

I’ll post like I did yesterday when I can. But, producing yesterday’s post was very emotionally draining.

The picture. I saw it. I photographed it. This is a kind of photojournalism so I don’t tinker with it except to correct things like color and contrast. I do remember that when I made the picture it was so hot. So humid. We had one of those hot, hot summers. That’s what heated the gulf, which fueled the storm, which destroyed 80% of the city. Then, there was the smell. The stench of rotted everything. Of mold. Of the oil and chemicals that flooded everywhere. That’s what I remember when I look at this picture.

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Hard rain out on the road.

“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm.”

So wrote Bob Dylan.

Where is that shelter? Again, a year to the day of the Pittsburgh shooting, and not more than two weeks from the last mass shooting, a Jewish synagogue was attacked. Four wounded. One dead. A woman died attempting to protect her rabbi.

Christians say it’s a war against them. Jews say it’s an anti-semitic war against them. Muslims say it’s a war against them. None of them see the big picture, or, they are ignoring it. It’s a war against everybody who is different from some other guy. It’s a war against people who think differently from some other guy. For sure, the Catholic churches that were attacked in Sri Lanka were claimed by ISIS, but the shootings in The United States were allegedly done by deranged white guys.

It’s  a war fueled by pure hatred. And carried out at the point of a gun.  An AR-15. an A-R, that are the model letters for Assault Rifle. Think about that for a minute. The minute when you try to defend gun ownership in all cases.

When does this stuff stop? How does it stop?

It won’t.

We don’t have the leaders to stop it. You may have heard the speeches at the NRA convention. The convention that does not allow guns inside. That one.

The only way to stop it is to get angry. To get very angry. An anger that is sustained and will flow through the next general election in 2020. It’s not enough to vote out the punk president. Anybody who gets in the way of positive change must go. We must do this. We must organize. We must fight back. Legally.

It’s time.

There is so much to do. These guys are getting in the way. They have to go. It can be done. We saw a little of it during the mid-term elections. The House of Representatives was flipped. And, not just be a few representatives. We can do it in the Senate. We can do it in The White House. It’ll take hard work. But, as they say, anything good takes hard work.

I promised you that I would keep Storyteller politics free. And, I will. This is a place for art, for photographs, for New Orleans. But, yesterday kind of broke me. I’m getting afraid to open any social media. I dislike reading newspapers — the job I liked best. In the early days. That’s all ridiculous. But, I just hate reading what I find. I should be reading about baseball, and Jazzfest, and general news, and news about New Orleans. Oh no.

Enough.

The picture. One stormy day on River Road. Camera on the dashboard and me stopping a little long, so that I can make the picture. It says a lot. About Southeast Louisiana rain storms. I don’t remember exactly, but I’ll bet that I either drove out of it, or it stopped not far away. That’s how it is. The storm doesn’t last for long. Unlike the state of my country. That storm shows no signs of breaking. Unless we break it.

Lori Gilbert Kaye.

Remember her name. That’s the least we can do.

 


Out on River Road.

River Road.

With a few breaks here and there, you can travel almost to Baton Ridge from New Orleans on a seemingly country road that runs along both the East and West banks of the Mississippi River. If you are a bicyclist you can ride most of that distance on the top of the levee that borders the river.

After my fun of a couple of nights ago, I realized that I hadn’t driven this way for a long time. So, I drove it. Well, a short portion of it. Maybe 12 miles. I picked a time when it wouldn’t be too crowded with traffic and the light would be good. I didn’t expect it to be this good. You know. Photographer’s luck.

I made the picture through my windshield. But, as I’ve said 100 times before, I let the camera do its thing, braced it on the dashboard and pushed the button. My eyes never came off the road. I’m also willing to just let the camera drop if something pops up. That’s the difference between me and some of the Sony folks I read on Facebook. My cameras are tools. They aren’t precious.

I think the picture is a nice Labor Day Weekend picture if you live in The United States. If you don’t, it is a nice Sunday picture. Either way, enjoy yourselves. You never know.


9th Ward Levee

I go back.

To this place of flood waters and death. I go back every three or four months. Just to see how things are progressing.

The Lower 9th Ward was destroyed during the flooding after Hurricane Katrina. The levees broke. The levees that were built by the Army Corps of Engineers were not properly maintained. They probably weren’t constructed properly in the first place. So, the storm surge hit the walls from seemingly every direction.  In total, throughout New Orleans, there were 57 levee breaks. Most were small. The two that the world saw were here, in the Lower 9th Ward, and in Lakeview. Both areas were inundated with 15 to 20 feet of water. Buildings were swept from their foundations.

Both neighborhoods were destroyed.

Lakeview has pretty much come back. The people there had fairly good insurance, money and were aided by the LRA because they could prove that ownership of their land and houses.

In the Lower 9th ward, not so much. Most homes were insured for replacement costs… in like 1925. Ownership was muddy because houses were passed down generationally with no succession documentation. This was, and is, a fairly blue-collar and poor neighborhood.

Original street sign.

What do I see?

The neighborhood between St. Claude and Claiborne Avenues has come back. Sort of. Those buildings weren’t flooded as badly. Unlike the buildings above Claiborne, they remained on their foundations.

When you cross Claiborne, you have some development along the avenue. There is actor Brad Pitt’s “Make It Right” homes and scattered rebuilding. That’s it. There are few buildings that have yet to be demolished. There are foundations and a lot of land that has reverted back to nature.

Nowhere for sale.

The pictures.

The first is the rebuilt levee. The towers are the Claiborne Avenue draw bridge. The levee is much stronger now. And, it is properly maintained. It’s sort of locking the barn door after the cow escaped.

The second picture is a 12-year-old street sign. One of the city’s last priorities after the storm was replacing street signs. The people who tried to return to the Lower 9th Ward made their own signs. In some places, the city has replaced the signs. Even though Forstall is a kind of major street, this area is so far out in the brush that the city didn’t bother.

Finally, some owners try to keep their land maintained and the grass mowed. They have hope. They hope to sell their land. I have hope too. I hope that they succeed.

But.

You knew this was coming.

There are no city services this far out in the neighborhood. No water. No electricity. Very few police patrols. And, I’m willing to bet that this seller has no proof of ownership. I know this because a few years ago a friend of mine, working for a local law firm, tried to vet some of this land. She believed the owners when they said this or that property was theirs. But they had no way to prove it. Even when she dug into the property records, all she could find was documentation of the original owner with no succession.

So.

This land lies fallow. It will probably never be restored back to the neighborhoods that once were. Maybe the neighborhood reverts back to what it was at dawn of the 20th Century. Small truck farms. After all, farm direct to table is the thing now.


Healing prayers.
Healing prayers.

Hurricane. Katrina at 11. I said last year that ten years was enough time to mourn. To rebuild. To reflect. I said that I was done living in post-Katrina New Orleans. That from last year’s ten-year anniversary I wasn’t going to wallow in the Katrina leftovers. I was moving on.

My response was partially due to the national and international media coverage of the “big” ten-year anniversary of the storm and flooding the swamped 80 % of the city. Every possible kind of media descended on the city. Many of them got it wrong. Most of us who actually live here and have recovered were disgusted. We predicted, and got it right, that there would be next to no coverage this year. I saw two national stories on the storm. One in the Huffington Post and another in the Washington Post. That was just fine with me.

Many of my friends who post on social media said the were not going to post anything at all. I kind of agree with them. But, obviously I don’t agree with them all the way. I decided to simply photograph what I saw on August 29, 2016 in the Lower 9th Ward. That’s a big piece of what I do. I document things. Sure, I spin the post production my way. To help make the picture my mind saw. But, still…

Obviously, many New Orleanians felt the same way. Very few people came out.

Look at the top picture. That’s the healing service. Last year the crowd was so big that it stretched into the street and down some of the side streets. Everybody represented. Mardi Gras Indians. Queens. Baby Dolls. Brass bands. Social and Benevolent Societies. And, of course, media from all over the world.

Not this year. What you see in the top picture is what there was. You can count them.

So.

I decide to wander around the Lower 9th Ward and just photograph a few things. What I saw. You may have to open the pictures to see the details.

The big question. What do I think? Feel?

Eleven years on, I don’t feel like the government let us down. Anymore. Oh, they did to be sure. The levees are a federal project that was locally managed. The levees weren’t built all that well and they certainly weren’t maintained. They broke in 57 places. Two neighborhoods were completely destroyed. And just a bit downriver, an entire town was almost wiped off the map. Overall recovery was a mess. You saw the immediate results on CNN.

We can talk about how and why one neighborhood came back and the other didn’t. Well, with the exception of the few streets that actor Brad Pitt’s Make it Right group helped to rebuild.

If you want to get into why most of the Lower 9th didn’t come back, search for it here on Storyteller. Or, Google it. It’s not pretty. It will make you angry, but that’s not my point today.

Instead, while I was photographing around, I saw a lot of beauty. Oh yeah, I find beauty in ruins and broken things, but that wasn’t it.

I saw nature. Doing her thing. She’s been doing it for a while. But, yesterday toward the end of summer with all of the season’s growth I could see it clearly.

And, maybe, just maybe this neighborhood wasn’t meant to come back all the way. Much of it is simply country now. Southern country land. Nature reclaimed it. And, that ain’t a bad thing.

So.

No. I wasn’t sad yesterday. And, I wasn’t reliving the past. I was seeing the now. And, maybe I had a glimpse of the future.

Still for sale.
Still for sale.


Early Spring
Early Spring

How did I do this?

How did I forget to publish this picture? I made this picture during early spring. I forgot to show it to you. I was doing some housekeeping in my Storyteller folder and found a couple of pretty interesting pictures. This was one of them. The levee at Algiers Point during a pretty strong sunset.

You’ve seen this place before at various times of day. The latest was the guy on his bicycle with the bridge in the background. Not to worry, there is nobody lurking in the background of tis picture. You don’t have to search high and low for them. There is just that powerful sky.

The picture. Pretty much along the lines of F8 and be there. I’m not a big time sunset shooter. Or, unlike the woman in the television commercials, I don’t make my living Photographing sunrises. As If anybody could. But, when I see a great one I have to take the picture.


A sunset bike ride along the levee at Algiers Point.
A sunset bike ride along the levee at Algiers Point.

This is a good Friday picture.

Check it out. A lone bike rider silhouetted against a wonderful sunset while he’s cruising along the levee with the Crescent City Connection spanning the Mississippi River in the background.

Do me a personal favor, please. Open this picture up. By doing that, you’ll be doing yourself a bigger favor. It’ll make your day.

This is one of my favorite ways to compose a picture. There are a lot of names for this style. For me it’s just contrasting the smallness of a human being against the larger background of nature. Yes. The bridge is man-made, but it’s simply a part of the overall scene. And, the human is tiny. There is a lot of truth to be found in images like this one.

The picture. This one took a little patience. I had to wait for somebody to walk, run or ride through the scene. Unfortunately, I sort of got in my own way. It took a while. I got a little bored. My mind started wandering. All of a sudden the bike rider was there. Wham. Bam. I came dangerously close to missing the point of the entire picture. Sheesh.


Mardi Gras Indian.
Mardi Gras Indian.

New Orleans. We aren’t what you think.

Art. They say all art is about the maker. That most meaning is brought to that same art by the viewer.

Mistakes. I’m great at making them. I may have pretty much made a year old mistake. Most of my 2015 work that you’ve seen ‘s either Mardi Gras culture, Dystopian views of the city, or my kind of nature photography — which is really cheating because well, let’s just say that it is.

A friend of mine recently passed through. I took him out shooting. With a camera. Not a gun. Sheesh. I gotta be careful with every word. The first time was mostly for a smallish second line in Central City. We explored the Bywater a little. The second time was out to the Lower 9th Ward. Those places interest me. They make me happy because in the last five years I’ve watched them progress. But, to the first time visitor they look broke down, ruined, forgotten. Like one of our nicknames, “The City that Care Forgot.”

What I did’t do, stupidly, was direct him to Uptown, to Lakeview, to the places where recovery really has taken hold. We live Uptown. In the Garden District. Yes. Sure, our streets look like Berlin 1946. Our water pipes need serious work. And, our power lines? We’ll let’s just say if two squirrels meet on a power line, we might not have electricity for a couple of hours.

But, it’s a seriously pretty place. The people who rate such things, say that we are the best neighborhood in the country. Not, the most pricey. That’s in the Bay Area or up the Hudson River near New York City. Just the best. I don’t care about that. I just know that one neighborhood in New Orleans probably doesn’t look like another. Even in the general area called Uptown, the neighborhoods differ dramatically in just a few hundred yards.

In an exchange of comments and on his blog, my buddy  — he is among a lot of others — said that New Orleans is a tourist place. For people who want to party hard. Well, yeah sure. The French Quarter is certainly that. But, as I always say to visitors, “Get the hell out of Quarter and see the rest of the city.” Or, at least view the Quarter from a different point of view like the Steamboat Natchez pictures. I don’t see a bar or club in that picture. He also said we are run down and dirty. Hmmm. Everywhere? We’d better move. Right now.

By the way, he’s not the first or only person to say that.

So.

I said earlier this year, at around its turn from 2015, that you sort of guided me to what this blog should be. I took your comments very seriously. But, as they say,”Never tell God your plans.” So we got sick. With some weird upper respiratory cold-like thing. It took forever to get healthy. I’m much better now.

It’s time to do what I said I’d do. Prettier pictures of places that you can come see when you visit. Places away from the most common of tourist locations. How’s that?


Dusk levee walk.
Dusk levee walk.

The Mississippi River at New Orleans is reaching flood stage in the next couple of days. There is really not much to worry about. Despite my general feelings about the Army Corps of Engineers, they are on top of this one. As, they usually are with all things river.

On Saturday, the ACOE  are opening the Bonnet Carre Spillway to relieve the water flow into the city. I had to laugh because they are planning this so well, that they even have a figure for the number of people that they anticipate coming to view the opening. Watching the water flow from the river out into open land is very impressive. You begin to understand the power of nature. By doing this, the biggest temporary loss is the closing of a two lane mostly dirt road that is a cut through from River Road to Highway 61 (Airline Highway) near La Place. I think the road was first cut by engineers shaping the spillway, and then by off-roaders and finally by people looking for a short cut. But, this happens every couple of years, usually in Summer, so it’s not the big deal that some more national media make into be.

As far as shipping goes, the US Coast Guard have long-standing protocols to deal with a very high river.  At worst, freighters will be stacked up in a line, waiting their turn. And, some ships will have a few issues docking. But, that’s under the guidance of river boat pilots who are very, very good and very, very experienced.

For a while I wasn’t sure that I could document any of this. There was an early issue of levee path closures to bikers and walkers. The leaders on both sides of the river thought better of that and basically just said, “Use your head and don’t fall in.” Oh, “And do report anything you see like a sand boil.” That’s sand rising up through the levee which may indicate that it’s leaking.

All of that said, this is another thing you could do when you visit my fair city. No, not report sand boils. Take a walk along the river. If you are just hanging out in the French Quarter, you could walk along the river for just long enough to get some understanding of how it affects the city. You could walk from the Aquarium of the Americas to the Bywater. That’s a nice easy walk. You’ll see a lot and you’ll meet some interesting people. Just remember if anybody wants to bet you that they know where you got your shoes, the answer is “On my feet.”

For those of you who really like to walk, you could take the streetcar to Audubon Park, walk through the park to the river and walk upriver for as long as you’d like. Just remember that if you walk in one direction, you have to walk back. Or, have someone meet you because you could walk to well outside of the city. Or, you could ride a bike. It’s a great walk or ride and you’ll get out of the city and into the country. You’ll learn just how quickly New Orleans changes  from the third world Caribbean country to the Deep South. If you are visiting in the summer take plenty of water. And, a hat. And, sunscreen. Don’t walk in the mid-day sun. Only mad dogs and Englishmen do that.

Going forward. I’ve been casting about for new ideas for Storyteller. I didn’t realize how many of you actually read it to learn about the city in preparation for your first visit, next visit, or something more. That gave me an idea. It’s your idea.