Rebirth. 

Still in the Lower 9th Ward.

Nature changed this place. With a storm. A storm that will live forever in our hearts, minds and souls. And, in history books.

She gave us a new start. She showed us some truths. There are places we should rebuild. There are places that we shouldn’t.

This is one of those places. It’s good fertile land. The land is far below sea level. The closer you get to the lake side of the neighborhood, the more you are likely to see never drying mud. Water bubbling through the earth. Use this land to plant crops. Everything grows here. Without much farming effort. Feed the rest of the city.

The picture. Symbolic imagery is hard to make. Strip down a complex scene. Photograph that. You might come close. I tried when I saw this bit of what remains of a house. See the remaining color? Vieux Carre Green. One of New Orleans’ colors. That, plus the summer flowers, told the story for me. Nature wants stasis. Things return to what they were.

I might be a little too close emotionally to the subject matter. I see my point. Do you?

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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.


Through the neighborhood.

Where’s Waldo, indeed.

As you know, I’ve been skulking around my archives since I can’t really moved about at will. I found this picture. I made it back around a hundred years ago. Or, 2014. It says a lot about New Orleans.

Because.

This a second line that is so closely packed that it looks as if they are a mission of some kind. Or, they are waiting for some big concert. Then, you see a tuba. Ah, you start to think.

That’s about the point when you probably should open the picture as big as you can. You’ll see things that makes New Orleans the place it is today. Look at the top of the picture at both the left and right corners. The one way signs. This is a corner, at which for no rhyme or reason, the city changed directions of the street. Imagine this pre-Katrina. This was a fully functioning neighborhood.

Then, there is Waldo. Well, not really Waldo. A photographer friend of mine. He’s right there in the middle. Sort of. See the woman wearing red pants and a black shirt? Walking  just before the Cadillac car? Look just behind her head. You’ll see a guy pointing a little video camera. That’s him. Funny. I never saw him when I made the picture. But, when I downloaded and opened it up, there he was. Plain as day. Or. something like that.

The picture. These are the kinds of second line pictures I wish I could make. Always. I make a lot of “coming out the door” pictures. I’m in the middle of the scrum. That’s fine if you do it once or twice. But, after reviewing fives years of them, aside from the moment, they all look about the same.

If I look at my photographer friends’ pictures, they do too. Aside from post production techniques, most of our pictures look the same. And, why not? We all learn from each other.  My goal in my last days on the street was to make something a little different. Note that. I didn’t say better. I don’t know if it’s better. I said different.

There’s a reason for the sameness. We are all working from the original template laid down by the late, great Michael P. Smith, who documented all of this for thirty years starting in the early 1980s. He generally worked from the front and tried to drift into the right place. Waldo, or Christopher Porche-West as he is really known, also started about that time. His difference came by inviting fully suited Indians into a studio and making formal portraits of them. Some of his work lives in the Smithsonian. A place, where I’m pretty certain my work will never reside.

There is also a good amount of luck in this picture. Normally, once you are inside of the bounds of the route, it’s hard to get outside. I managed to find a back door and did that. But, I didn’t come out where I hoped. That would have been at the front of the second line. Instead, I came out here.

Turns out, it wasn’t such a bad location.


Ain't der no mo'.
Ain’t der no mo’.

Club Desire.

If you’ve read Storyteller for any length of time, you know about this place. If not, I’ll catch you up briefly. Club Desire is the birthplace of rock n roll.

Say what you will about the King — Elvis. It’s the chitlin circuit bands that passed through New Orleans in the late 1940s and early 1950s — playing anything from bop, to big band music, to rhythm and blues to straight ahead jazz —  that formed the gumbo from which rock n’ roll bubbled up and eventually took form.

Who played here? Oh man. I can name a few. A few that you might know. But, the list is way, way long.

Little Richard, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Ray Charles and… Fats Domino.

When Fats played here, it was at that moment that the music changed. He eventually left Club Desire. He moved across the railroads tracks to the Hideaway Club. In the neighborhood of Desire. From there his career is a matter of history. He’s still alive. The Hideaway is long gone.

The place. It closed in the early 1970s. When the owner passed. There were a few one-off events that were held by his daughter. Mostly, it just sat there and mouldered. She still owned it. But, never paid property taxes. There was no reason for music fans to come out this far. The streetcar known as Desire had been gone for many years. Fans could see their favorite bands in town. In New Orleans. Eventually, Hurricane Katrina came and the area flooded with about 15 feet of water. The entire neighborhood was hurt pretty badly. It’s starting to come back. The club did not. Not now. And, apparently never.

Oh sure. All sorts of organizations tried to delay the city’s demolition process. One group even tried to have the building declared a national monument since FEMA money was used in neighborhood restoration. Not happening. Everybody wrote letters. We did too. To no avail.

I knew it. Every time I passed by, more of the building was collapsing. Even if the building could have been declared a historical monument, it would have cost a lot of money just to make it safe, let alone to restore it.

Still.

When I turned the corner to have a look at Cafe Desire, I was shocked. Stunned. Saddened.

It was gone.

Near as I can tell, the city tore it down last week. The grader is still parked there. With a ladder on top of it. The ground still has tracks on it. It hasn’t been weathered. I missed the actual event. The demo. All boys like demolitions. Just as well. I wouldn’t have been happy.

As a wise man once said, “Don’t be sad because something ended. Be happy because it happened.” You know that wise man. Dr. Seuss.

Besides. There are ghosts. Musical ghosts. Long live the musical ghosts.

Upstairs
Upstairs


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.


This is it.

Three days of “best of pictures.” At least that’s what I think today. Tomorrow, I may not like any of the 36 pictures that I’ve shown you over the past three days. You’ve seen most these New Orleans culture pictures in the past, I think. Some were images in posts. Others were parts of my show. Some mean a little more to me than others do. One that comes to mind immediately, is the picture simple titled, “Blue.” I made it on a day when I could barely walk. I recovered. I’d like to think that my recovery was aided by the energy of the people in these pictures.

As I’ve said during the past week, this year ended as it started. With a jazz funeral. In between there were many, many second lines, Mardi Gras, the Tenth Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. I photographed Mardi Gras Indians, a Big Queen, social & aid clubs, brass bands and Zulu Tramps. I saw a lot of happiness, respect and love. People danced. They played music. They sang. Sometimes, they laughed. Sometimes, they cried. They were always happy to see each other.

I worked in almost every kind of weather. On Mardi Gras Day, I worked in freezing weather. During the early summer and early fall I worked in oppressive heat. I worked in 90% humidity and heavy rain. I’m not the only one. There are a group of photographers on the scene. Mostly for second lines. We come out almost every Sunday. It’s a commitment. In time. In energy. And, in a little money.

It’s worth it.

I’ve seen and learned more than I could in almost any other city. I’m grateful for that. It’s humbling to be accepted on the streets.

And, that’s 2015.

Most of you will likely read this on early New Year’s Eve, or New Year’s Eve day. Thank you for reading, looking at the pictures and sometimes commenting.

Happy New Year.

Happy 2016.


Dancing
Dancing

I did the right thing.

With all of the Hurricane Katrina memorial events taking place all over New Orleans on Saturday, I decided to photograph one. Just one. And, to do the very best job that I could. After talking to a few of my friends and seeing others’ posts on various social media, I’m convinced that I did the right thing. Many of them had horrible days. Between the emotions of finally reaching the tenth anniversary and trying to chase all over the city, many of their days were long and messed up. My thoughts are with them. Yesterday was a very hard day.

I photographed the Tenth Hurricane Katrina Anniversary healing and second line. It is the world’s longest second line. That’s what the parade organizers said. I believe them. Where I worked, it was very long. As they roll along they tend to gather new second liners and turn into something that is massive at the end. This one was beyond huge, at the start. I tried to jump. But traffic was all tied up because this one stretched out all over the place. Instead. I came to the front of the parade from some side street. I did what I came to do and headed home. Some of the second liners were still going on into the night at Hunter’s Field, the parade’s end point.

I did the right thing for another reason. As I was driving to the Lower Ninth, I looked around. People were working at their every day jobs. Stores of all kinds were open. People were shopping. Mowing their lawns. Tinkering on their cars. They were doing whatever it is they do. I realized right then and there that the whole city isn’t caught up in all things Katrina. In fact, it’s likely that most people aren’t. And, that’s a good thing. They’ve moved on. The storm changed their lives — my life — but we’ve moved on. As we should. Hopefully, the people who had a bad day will use the memorial events to shake everything out of their systems. If there is an 11th Anniversary parade I won’t be there.

And, the media? OMG! I’m pretty sure there were more people taking pictures with good gear than there were people actually walking. What can I say? Hopefully, there will be one last group of anniversary stories and they’ll all move on to the next big thing. I know their staffers liked being here. How could they not? We are one of the best tourist destinations in the world.

A couple of things.

I’m going to take a little shooting break. But, not a posting break. Aside from whatever emotions were dredged up, this was draining work. It’s still very hot down here. I worked in heat. I worked in rain. I worked in heavy humidity. I drove a lot. In questionable places. I worked on this project every day. That doesn’t count my paid work, my second job, my home life.

As I mentioned, while I was photographing this project, I also took pictures of whatever I saw. While I was taking a little break on Friday, I did some work on those pictures. There’s a lot of them. I think you’ll like them.

I also decided somewhere out there yesterday to book end this project. The title — Ten Years Gone — is how I started 15 days ago.

The pictures.

Well, this event is a little different from a normal second line. The first hour is given to a healing time. It gets a little religious towards the end. The folks with their hands up in a power salute are really raising their fists in a “New Orleans Strong” salute. Everything else is pretty self-explanatory. I’m sure that guy taking a picture of the young ladies in purple will be wondering who I am. The same goes for me. You know, who was that guy? The kids on the porch were not all that happy that I took their picture. When I said thank you, as I always do, they had no expression… until the young lady — maybe their big sister —  behind them whacked them on their heads and said, “Y’all have better manners than that. Say you’re welcome.” Big sister, indeed.

There you have it. Thank you for sticking around and reading. It means more than I can tell you.


Empty church.
Empty church.

Yesterday was August 28th. It was exactly ten years ago that we evacuated the city.

Today, I will photograph the last of my ten-year anniversary pictures. There will be a massive Hurricane Katrina memorial second line parade that will start at Jourdan and North Galvez Streets at the levee. It will wind through the 9th Ward and arrive at Hunter’s Field some time later. It seems like everybody is coming out for it. The main brass band is Rebirth. They retired from the street a year or so ago. Kermit Ruffins is coming out. Even though he works here, he lives in Houston. Texas. There will be all sorts of healing events along the way. It’s either photograph this, or go listen to former president Bill Clinton speak about something. What would you pick? Heh, heh, heh.

As you know, this and today’s second line pictures close my Hurricane Karina work. I hope never to photograph another storm anniversary again. That doesn’t mean I’ll stop photographing New Orleans. There too many stories to tell. And, not enough days to tell them. But, as I’ve written in the past, ten years is long enough. You can only reflect and mourn for so long. It is, in the words of Leah Chase, “Time to pull up your pants and get to work.”

The Pictures. I thought that I would close my Katrina coverage with something peaceful. This is St. Maurice Church, located in the Holy Cross neighborhood of the Lower 9th Ward. It was built in 1857 and consecrated in 1862. During the Civil War. Even though the Archdiocese of New Orleans deconsecrated and may have even sold it (It was for sale in 2013), it seems to have risen from the flood waters as a sort of community center. The doors were open for the first time since I’ve been exploring the neighborhood. So, I went inside. I’m not going to caption each picture. You can see for yourself. The pictures don’t take much explaining.

Except.

Look at the first thumbnail on the left. That’s in a back room of what may have been the rectory. Yes. Lots of water logged computers. That’s not the most important piece of the picture. That horizontal line is. That’s the water line. Everything below it, including the church itself, was flooded to that level.

There you have it. Waterworld Rising.


A little bit broken.
A little bit broken.

The President came yesterday. Yes. Barack Obama. The President of The United States.

He visited the Lower 9th Ward, Treme, The Lafitte Housing Projects and Willie Mae’s Scotch House. The last stop was for lunch.

I didn’t photograph him. Been there. Done that. I’d rather continue documenting what I see. And, trying to explain what I feel. I’m not exactly sure I’m accomplishing what I intend to do. Remember the food court, called St. Roch Market, that I showed you a few days ago? Well, a bunch of travel blogs and online newspapers like that set of pictures. As a travel destination. Cool. That’s not the reason that I intended. To add a punctuation point to that, a woman was stabbed in that neighborhood yesterday. In fact, there were twelve shootings around town two days ago between about 5 and 7pm. Hmmm…

Anyway.

Back to The President. I guess he spoke about climate change. That’s a pretty important topic. Especially to us in Southeast Louisiana. The governor, Bobby Jindal, said that he shouldn’t talk about that topic. Fortunately, The President doesn’t listen to him. Neither does our mayor. I very rarely talk about politics on Storyteller. But, to my way of thinking, Bobby Jindal shouldn’t talk about anything. After all, this is the man who said that the Confederate flag is part of his heritage, forgetting that his mother was three months pregnant with him when his family immigrated from India. Sheesh. It wasn’t even southern India.

I suppose The President’s itinerary was designed to show him what was still left to be done. That’s good. If he read Storyteller, he’d know. Heh, heh, heh. After all, I’ve shown you plenty of work from the Lower 9th Ward and Treme. I showed you the Lafitte Housing Projects when I showed you the new green belt. What more does he need?

Wille Mae’s Scotch House? Well, that’s legendary. Willie Mae Sutton is 98 years old. She’ll be 99 in a little less than a month. She’s won a James Beard award. Her great-grand daughter, Kerry Seaton-Stewart runs it now.  It flooded in the aftermath of the storm. A group of volunteers restored the building led by The Southern Foodways Alliance and New Orleans chef John Currence. It was Seaton-Stewart who rebuilt the business. It is popular with long time residents and tourists who come for the fried chicken which has been called America’s best. I don’t know about that. I’m partial to the fried chicken at Dookie Chase, cooked by Leah Chase. But, what does she know? She’s only 93.

It’s people like Ms. Willie Mae, Ms. Leah, the Mardi Gras Indians and the people who organize the second lines who keep me in this city. The major media finally got around to discussing the real issues of recovery. The city is changed. For good. And, for not so good. The people who come here from — oh, let’s say — Kansas City or Cleveland or St. Louis or, or, or… fell in love with New Orleans on a vacation. Or, maybe volunteering to help us rebuild. They move here because they like our culture. Or food. Our quirkiness. Then, they set out to change stuff to the way it is in Kansas City, Cleveland or St. Louis. Or, somewhere else.

Of course, there are huge unintended consequences of their love of New Orleans. Real Estate prices have risen through the roof. To give you an example, we’ve owned our house for a little over two years. We can sell it for about three times what we paid for it. I’m not bragging. That’s just a fact. Of course, rental property has risen as well.  Either it’s been gentrified or it’s been renovated with post-storm Federal money and with a shrunken housing stock… well, you get it. Those second liners? They can’t afford to live in the neighborhoods that were once theirs. They commute to parade in neighborhoods where they grew up. That may not be relevant soon. All those people who are newly arrived? They want peace and quiet. A parade assembling for a noon start time makes a lot of noise. See what I’m saying?

Sometimes, I wonder why they are here. The climate is tough. The city can be very rough. The crime rate? Wellllllll…

Besides, a good number of them are digital entrepreneurs. Start ups. Funded by some kind of venture capital. They can live and work anywhere. If it where me, and I wanted to live near New Orleans, I’d live along the Gulf Coast. In Mississippi. I’d come into town for meals, music. Like that.

Or, I’d really embrace the culture. And, really live in the community. But, what do I know? I’m a kid compared Ms. Willie Mae and Ms. Leah.

The pictures. Yeah, I’m getting to them. Finally. I made them in the Lower 9th Ward. Even though I’m about done documenting the 10th Anniversary of the arrival of Hurricane Katrina, I can’t be done documenting the city for as long as I’m around. From what I’ve seen in the past few days of more general wandering, there is a huge amount of construction going on. That’s a good thing. A lot of what I’ve photographed in the past is already gone. For all sorts of reasons. I hope that there will be something remaining for the people who were born there. Who grew up there. Besides, if I don’t do it, who will?

  1. Holy Cross neighborhood. The house is painted. It looks secure. The roof looks fairly new. That’s a really good sign.
  2. This picture is kind of misleading. The building is located on a corner. It’s a mess. But, there is another building attached to it. It looks restored. Sometimes, the owner can’t afford to restore an entire building. So, he or she does what they can in order to have a place to live. This building is pretty old. Maybe pre-Civil War. See those thick vertical boards that are under the blue boards? Those are barge boards. Prior to the advent of some kind of motor power — steam, paddle wheel — there was no way to propel barges back up the Mississippi River so they were broken up and used for construction.
  3. The house that was located here was right across the street from the levee. The owner has also made do. Nice living room. On a great day with the heat and humidity down a bit, this would be a wonderful place to watch the world pass by. Unless, of course, there is gun play.
  4. This house was located on a block full of other houses. The buildings in the background are a block away. Country living in an urban setting.