ccording to The Washington Post, The President just said that Congress had reach a bi-partisan agreement on the infrastructure bill. All I can say is that is about damn time.
If ever there was a city in need of infrastructure repair it’s New Orleans.
You are looking at one of two drawbridges that cross the Intracoastal Waterway connecting the rest of the city to the Lower 9th Ward and locations further downriver.
Look at it. At the time when I made this picture it had been painted and it’s already rusty.
There are really three points made in this picture. Both drawbridges should be replaced with something modern. The Intracoastal Waterway — known locally as MR-GO — should be closed because it brought the water from everywhere that destroyed the Lower 9th Ward.
Finally, see that concrete structure on the right side of the picture? That’s the new levee built after the old one was broken in many places allowing the water from MR-GO to food and destroyed the Lower 9th Ward.
Now, about the potholes in my street.
nce again WordPress has made it way too hard to do anything with this block system. It will be the thing that finally drives me away.
I’m sure that I did it. At least what those fine morons at WordPress will claim.
Yes, WordPress if you are reading, I just called you morons. I’m sorry if I offend anybody with this next line, but leave the fucking thing alone.
They created some way of trapping copy with a blue box. You cannot edit anything in the box. If you hit the delete key, the paragraph is removed. The box continues to move upward deleting and deleting.
The only work around that I could figure out is to go back to a saved draft and use that.
Of course, this means all of the categories and tags are removed. If you schedule posts as I do, that is removed as well.
I made this photograph on the Ninth Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina making landfall in Buras, Louisiana. All that followed in the next weeks and months is history. In about two months, we’ll be acknowledging the 15th anniversary of that hellhound.
So much has changed.
Change is the only constant, they say. They are right. We are currently dealing with another hellhound. This one is harder to photograph. It’s invisible to the naked eye. It’s more deadly. There is no place to run. We don’t know when it will end. Or, if it will end.
Really, all we can do is deal with it. We can learn to manage ourselves. Today, I had my first haircut since mid-February. I needed it. It was also the second day my salon was open. I had to think about it. Still, I went. We were all masked up. There was sanitizer in an auto-dispensing machine. For those customers without masks there were free masks.
When I was searching my archives for a suitable picture, I thought about all of that. Even though we were honoring the storm dead, we were also celebrating life. As usual I just made my way to the front of what was forming up to be a second line.
The three men directly behind The Dancing Woman of New Orleans — Julie — are unmasked Mardi Gras Indians. Or, as they prefer, Black Masking Indians. I probably should get you used to reading that. Eventually, they lead a second line through out The Lower 9th Ward. It pretty much was a day of celebration after first mourning the people who died when the levees broke.
That’s also our shared history.
Stay safe. Enjoy every bowl of red beans and rice.
Since the all seeing dog isn’t walking so far these days because she isn’t quite well, I haven’t been looking about very much.
I’d start seriously looking for pictures as our restrictions drop, but the sky is too blue and the sun is too bright. Ridiculous, I know. My best work is done either at the ends of the day or in bad weather. We’ve had some powerful rain. At night. Everytime. Usually at like 2 or 3 am.
I’m reworking a lot of pictures using new techniques and apps.
I think you’ve seen the base picture. I know the folks who follow me on Instagram have. I’ve experimented so much on this one that I think if I posted the two versions side by side you might not recognize the original version.
I’ve been posting a lot of bright, hopeful pictures. Now, it’s time for the other side of the coin. The picture is dark. It’s broken. It’s eerie. The bright balls of color come from someplace else. Are they good? Bad? That’s up to you. And, me.
To me, it looks like some kind of space alien invasion. I may be seeing it that way because we’ve been watching a bunch of space aliens invading the earth on Netflix. They’ve imprinted themselves on my brain.
Or, it might just have to do with the state of our planet, and the general lack of leadership needed to win the war against the virus.
Which brings me to a piece I read in The New York Times about old school wars and what’s happened since World War II. During that war we fought to win. Since then, we’ve fought to hold the line, ending combat in a stalemate. You may not approve of warfare. Or, you might. I fall in the former category because I saw the truth. That said, I still believe if you are going to fight, you should fight to win.
That’s not what’s happening in our war against CoVid-19. Our national leaders seem content to hold the line instead of killing the virus. The death count keeps rising, yet we have been encouraged — no, make that bullied — into opening businesses too soon. In many places, way too soon.
You know the potential result. Another virus surge in places where it has calmed down. Or, there will be lies about the success. I read both sides of the story, conservative and liberal. I reckon that somewhere in the middle lies a bit of truth.
I read a piece written by a conservative writer who actually works in The White House. He wrote that Florida’s open standards have been a success. Success? My ass. There have been 2,500 new cases in the last three days. Who know how many people that those newly tested people have infected. And, where they live. Some success.
The way to win this war is to put politics aside, appoint a single leader and give him or her all the powers of a wartime president. That means requiring companies who can make all sorts of protective gear to make it. That requires the power to shut down the country if need be. That requires the power to help our foundering states and cities.
I know, I know. The far right will scream bloody murder saying that they don’t want to live in a socialist state. The horse is way out of the barn on that one. The minute we accepted $1,200 checks we became a little more socialist. The minute businesses accepted PPP aid, we became a little more socialist. Free food distributed by The National Guard. More socialist.
Get over it.
Shutting down the country is a little tricky. There are no good choices. Shut down business for too long and there will be extreme financial ruin the likes of which we’ve never seen. Don’t shut it down and the virus continues to run in cycles. There will be death and… more financial ruin. The likes of which we’ve never seen.
I’ve always been a “cut the leg off to save the body” kind of guy so you know what I think. Win the damn war. Don’t let us wander around in the desert for 30 years.
That’s mostly because I’m living my other life for the next week or so. No worries. I have plenty of pictures stashed away that you haven’t seen. For that matter, they are pictures that I’ve sort of forgotten about.
Pictures like this one, a nice bucolic meadow picture. Pretty, isn’t it?
This is the Lower 9th Ward, maybe ten years after Hurricane Katrina broke the levees and flooded what was once a vibrant community.
Sure, some people have returned. Some people rebuilt on their own. Some people returned to buy and live in Brad Pitt’s Make-It-Right homes. That’s the very corporate foundation that is being sued because many of the homes are falling apart. It appears that the all-star architects who designed them had no clue about our extreme weather. Mr. Pitt tried to decouple himself from the lawsuit, but the judge basically said that he couldn’t have it both ways.
That’s not the point of this picture. I’ve long said the people shouldn’t live here. The area is so far below sea level that cracks and potholes in the streets, leak. Apparently, nature agrees with me. Most of the land has returned to what it once was. Even wild animals have returned. I’ve seen feral pigs, snakes and turtles. A friend of mine said that he saw an alligator.
This picture is an example of nature seeking stasis.
Once, on this bit of property there were at least two or three houses. If you return to it in winter when everything is dead or dormant, you can see the foundations, water pipes, and the most spooky thing, porches to nowhere. Oh, and renegade toilets.
I’m thinking that when I get back, I should go back to the scene of the crime. I used to go about four times a year to chart the progress. I haven’t been back in a long while. I’ll add that to my list.
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.
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.
I kept going back. At first, every week or so. I had to know what would become of a once vibrant neighborhood of blue-collar people. While it is true that many people lost their lives out here, many more didn’t. It is still sacred ground. It always will be.
They were the rebuilders. The ones whose sense of pride and ownership brought them back to almost nothing day after day. They emptied their houses out. They removed pews from churches in hopes that they would dry out under our hot Louisiana sun.
Some even scraped away what remained of their houses in hopes that they could started rebuilding soon. Dump truck after dump truck helped them remove the remains and the debris. The home owners hoped to rebuild soon.
A community loss.
No place to sit.
It was not to be.
So many of the home owners lived in houses that were built by their grandfathers or their great grandfathers. When one generation passed, the next generation simply moved into the family home. There was no legal line of succession. Most homes were insured at, maybe 1920 replacement cost prices.
Without legal proof of ownership the residents could not qualify for anything. No FEMA funds. No LRH funds. No low-interest SBA loans. No nothing. Probably 90% of these people never returned home. They had no home to come back to. Their diaspora is far and wide. Many went to Houston. Many went to Atlanta. Some went further west. When we evacuated to New Mexico one of my 7th Ward neighbors family lived two doors down from us. Imagine our joy at seeing each other alive.
Yet many continued to care for their property. Even today. You’ll often see overgrown land with one neatly mowed and manicured property in the middle of that.
The best anyone did for this neighborhood was actor Brad Pitt, who founded the “Make-It-Right” organization. They built about 30 house. They used very famous architects who designed modern structures designed to withstand storms. They builders used modern building materials.
The new houses may have been designed to withstand a storm, but they weren’t designed to deal with our extreme heat and humidity. You have to live here to understand. Some are falling apart. One is in such bad condition that demolition permits have been filed in order to tear it down. Brad Pitt is being sued in order to force Make It Right to repair the houses.
And, so it goes.
The picture. They were made over time. For instance, the top picture was made a few weeks after the storm. The middle two were made a month or so later. The bottom picture was made maybe six months after that. I suppose the toilets attached to very strong plumbing will live on. I have no idea if the seat cover was there before the storm or added later. I prefer to think it rode out the storm.
I continue to return today. Usually once every three months. Beside the Make It Right homes, a few people have managed to return and rebuild. There are houses scattered here and there. Many properties are still as the storm left them. Worse for wear after rotting in the hot sun, and severe storms, over thirteen years. The rest of the neighborhood has returned to nature. Perhaps, that’s as it should be. This was always bottom land. Land so far below sea level that some streets leaked in the best of times.
These are things that I found during the early days of recovery following Hurricane Katrina’s destructive path. Or more precisely, the Federal Flood, given that the levees broke because of catastrophic failure.
I saw things. Terrible things. I’ll show you some of the more publishable things over the past few days. So terrible that when I finally returned to my own flooded house after photographing what remained of the Lower 9th Ward, I sat on my old friend Uncle Joe’s porch with him. I held my head in my hands. He put his arm on my shoulder. He said, “I told you not to go, but like a moth drawn to a flame you had to.”
He was right. He is usually right.
Uncle Joe is now 83 years old. He lost his house, but the Feds replaced it with a factory made house that looks just like his old house, but a little better. He’s a Creole man. He’s lived in Mississippi and New Orleans all his life. He’s seen everything. He’s been through every kind of racial issue there is. Still he smiles. Still he bares no ill will. He’s a guy that I can only aspire to be.
Heroes are where you find them. He’s one of mine.
What I found.
You know how I feel about all marching bands. Big high school bands and the little brass bands that play at second lines. I love them all. I love their music. I love the compact and on point sound of a great high school band. I love the chaotic sound of a second brass band. It’s the same, but very different.
When I returned to New Orleans after the storm, I was standing on Canal Street and St. Charles Avenue. Two Canadian women were standing next to me. I told them that if they ever were lucky enough to see the St. Augustine Marching 100 it would change their lives for the better. A minute after I said that, they came thundering up St. Charles in between the buildings that formed a sonic canyon. I almost couldn’t make pictures. My eyes were wet. I never thought that I’d see them again. It was a gift. It helped spur my return to New Orleans.
When I found these pictures, I was broken-hearted. Whoever owned this stuff marched and played in the St. Aug’s Marching 100. If the hash marks mean what I think the mean, he played in the band for all four years of high school and came back as a band helper after he graduated in order to pass on his knowledge to the next generation of band members. It also means that he was very, very good.
A lot of people went out to the Lower 9th Ward to see what the water destroyed. A lot of them would pick stuff up as kind of bizarre souvenir. I couldn’t do that. Most of the 9th Ward is sacred ground, meaning a lot of people died there. I have no idea how these items came be there. But, I’m not messing around with ghosts.
For Christians today is Easter Sunday. For Jewish people it is the second day of Passover. For those who believe in other ways, they may stop to honor Jesus’ rebirth, but for them it is mostly about spring. More rebirth.
I’m spiritual, but not particularly religious. Yes, it’s true. I am a baptized Catholic and I attended Catholic grade and high schools, but that’s where it stops. Something must have happened a long time ago to make me stop and wonder.
For those of you who have been reading Storyteller for any length of time you know that I believe that, “The work is the prayer.” That came from two sources. A Buddhist monk who I happened to be talking to on a trip to Thailand said that to me. And, while reading that the Benedictine monks were the first digital scribes so many years ago when we were still using floppy discs and didn’t have scanners, I came upon this. A monk was asked how he could reconcile his spiritual beliefs with secular work and he replied, “The work is the prayer.” I thought, at the time, “If it’s good enough for two religions, it’s good enough for me.”
For many holidays, I struggle to find a picture. No, that’s not entirely correct. I struggle to find a different picture. The usual picture for Easter is a cross at dawn. I’ve done it. You’ve done it. The guy over standing over there did it. This year it fell into my lap. It is a living example of the saying that guides my photographic endeavours, “Don’t take the picture, let the picture take you.”
One that is worn on the sweat stained shirt of a brass band member. A drummer to be exact. When I was photographing the Original OTC Steppers last Sunday, I saw this guy wearing the cross. I followed him to a bit of commotion on the parade’s break. Turns out another guy had a little too much to drink and fell on the ground. The drummer wearing the cross picked him up, talked to him for a minute and asked for medical assistance. An NOPD officer came over, looked at the situation and called for the EMTs. Our street cops are great. He could have made a big deal out of it. He didn’t.
I thought about it for a minute and made pictures of the drummer’s cross. The one that you are looking at. Seemed like the right thing to do. There’s an old Leon Russell song that talks about what I saw. He sang that when you saw some straggly, beat up old dude wandering down the street, you’d better treat him well because, “He might be the Prince of Peace returning.” I can hear Leon’s gruff old voice singing it now. In my head.
It’s not all as heavy as that. One of my neighbors posted something on Facebook about Easter that said something like, “It’s not only about the eggs, it’s also about the season of the lamb.” I immediately thought, “Mmmmm, seasoned lamb on the grill.” She’ll kill me for that one. Oh well. That’s how my mind works.
The picture. I already told you about it. But, it did do one thing for me. It helped me to let myself off the hook. I’ve been thinking about the cemetery picture at sunset. The one I made on St. Joseph’s Night. I was thinking I should have saved it for today. But, luck or fate was with me. Again.
When you hear the tuba start playing bottom notes you know the second line is about to start. Not only do they sound the opening notes of the parade, but they start again when the parade resumes after taking a break along the route.
I made these pictures after I photographed the Indian funeral. I had to find them in mid parade. Luckily, I caught the second liners at a planned break in the Lower 9th Ward. Actually, they came to me. I say luckily because sometimes you can’t find them. You fall in behind them or too far out ahead. Or, you miss a turn.
I knew the pictures could not have the same “coming out the door” explosive quality. So, I nibbled at the edges. I looked for details. I looked for little moments. I looked for something that might be symbolic.
Trumpets at rest.
Smiling and playing.
Brass at rest.
Starting them young.
A family event.
Although you don’t see it in these pictures, I have a couple of bad outtakes that illustrate the physicality of these parades. And, why I need recovery time. In case you are wondering about 90% of my work isn’t worth publishing. That’s the trick. You don’t need to show anybody your bad stuff.
The pictures. As always, see it. Photograph it. Don’t think. It’ll only get in the way. As the late and famous New York Yankees baseball player Yogi Berra once said to his manager, You want me to think and hit the ball?”
That’s really hard. Make it easier on yourself.
A little housekeeping. I made a nice Easter picture at this second line. You’ll see it tomorrow. Then, I’ll show you a series of spring tree pictures for the remainder of the week. Even though I was photographing these events, I made time to do other work. Lots and lots and lots of other work.