A lot happened. A lot didn’t happen. I can’t remember half of it. That’s probably for the best. But, this is what I know. A made a helluva (that’s a technical term) lot of pictures in ten years.
Some were really good. Some were good. And, a lot of them fall under the heading of “what was I thinking? ” I spent way too much time photographing my version of faux nature. As I reviewed that work I realized that no matter how I try to see things differently, I keep repeating just about everything. That’s bad news for a guy like me who wants to move forward.
I spent two years of the decade in New Mexico, so that is reflected here. Luckily, I do like the two New Mexican pictures a lot. There are eight New Orleans pictures. Culling them was hard. There are at least six others that could have made the cut. I opted to go with pictures that I really like rather than some signature images.
The pictures are organized in no particular order. The best pictures come to me whenever they do. You know. “Don’t take the picture, let the picture take you.” I’m certain that these pictures are not chronological, but they are an honest representation of what I believe are my ten best pictures of this closing decade.
I hope that you enjoy them. I enjoyed making them.
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.
Seventeen years ago everything changed. Terrorists destroyed the Twin Towers in New York City. They attacked the Pentagon in Washington D.C. They tried to fly another plane into Washington, but that plane was taken down by the passengers of that plane.
Today is a solemn day in The United States. In many places in the world it is a solemn day. We remember. We take pause. We offer little prayers.
These pictures are my prayer.
I offer this humble little portfolio to you. With pictures made over the years since that horrible day. To the people who have served so admirably. To those who have died. In the towers. In Washington D.C. In battlefields a world away. To the first responders. To those whose lives that are so changed. To the entire world.
Peace. New Orleans 2018.
Defending our freedom.
Summers end, maybe.
Hanging American flag.
Uptown American flag.
In the French Quarter.
Pictures of everything.
American flag used as a hat on a Mardi Gras Indian.
It takes a long time. I have friends in Florida. In a number of cities. One, who is located near Fort Lauderdale started posting in Facebook, about an hour after Hurricane Irma cleared out. No Power. An hour later. No power. A couple of hours later. Still no power. This morning. The lights are on a “XZY” center, no power here.
He keeps charging his phone somewhere. Maybe in his car.
There are two news stories today. One in The New York Times. One in The Washington Post. Both of them are about electric power restoration after a severe hurricane, and how it is “triaged.” It is likely that my friend won’t have power restored for five or six weeks. Could happen sooner. But, almost the entire state of Florida is having power issues. Electric companies are coming from all over the country to help out. Even ours sent a convoy of trucks. Still, it takes time. And, patience.
That said, a Katrina story.
My neighborhood was flooded and lost all electrical power on August 29. Power was finally restored on the day that I moved to New Mexico. November 20. I used one of those big moving companies. Something like Allied. They put together a package that wasn’t expensive because they picked up five resident’s furnishings in New Orleans and everything went to New Mexico where they broke it down by city. They made a lot more money, even though it was less expensive for us. That’s sort of normal procedure if you can’t fill a truck, but this time they narrowed the local areas.
November 20, 2005. Down the street comes a huge truck and trailer. Electrical power had just been restored to my neighborhood. But, it was hanging by a thread. One power line which crossed the street. Of course that big truck and trailer snagged it, ripping it down. Power gone again after finally being restored after almost three months.
Luckily, for me — the neighbors probably wanted to kill me — Entergy, our electric company — was still working on the street. The workers laughed at the look on my face. And, the crowd carrying hand tools, axes and machetes advancing on me. That’s not quite true, but the neighbors were all working so they did have tools in their hands. Entergy reattached the power cable in about 15 minutes. They probably saved my life and the lives of the driver and loader. I’m kidding. But, just barely.
Sometimes things are never the same. This picture was made on a block in Hollygrove. All these years after Hurricane Katrina flooded the city. Whoever lived here left. They never came back. Electricity was restored to the neighborhood, just not on this one block.
Yes, there a lot of post production and color management going on. To my eye, these remaining leftovers of the storm are always bleak. I want them to look that way. I made this picture near dusk, during the transition from golden to blue hour. The original image was just too pretty for the scene.
When I photographed it, it was not my intent to use it as a symbol of how far New Orleans has come in recovery. Or, how far we have to go. After thinking about it, it really is the perfect jumping off point for that discussion.
First, a bit of history.
St. Roch is a neighborhood in The Bywater. It is named after a church and cemetery of the same name. You pronounce it, “St. Rock.” The market first opened in 1875, as one of the first open air markets in the city that wasn’t located in the French Quarter. It is, however, in walking distance. By the time of the Great Depression, it was falling apart. The city was ready to condemn and demolish it. The neighborhood protested. It was renovated in 1932 by Sam Stone and Company. It was renovated again in 1937 by the WPA as what became part of the city markets. There are two others remaining today. One in Central City. And, the other is the famous French Market located in the Quarter. Eventually, the city turned the St. Roch Market over to private management. Although it looked like it was falling apart, it was doing okay financially. Mostly seafood was sold there.
Then, came that fateful year, 2005. Hurricane Katrina blew in, flooded the neighborhood and the market lay abandoned until it was finally restored by a group of business people who call themselves the St. Roch Community Partners Inc. They opened the market to vendors who sell what I call the usual hipster foods with a very small area that features locally grown vegetables.
It cost $3.7 million dollars to renovate. Mostly out of the city’s pocket. It opened on April 10, 2015, after almost ten years of being closed. It was vandalized on May 1, 2015.
I don’t know what it cost to repair after having had some of its windows broken, and to scrub off the pink spray paint. But, the newly opened St. Roch Market kept going. It was open even during the repair and cleaning work. From video captured by the security cameras, the vandals look young and probably didn’t live anywhere nearby. Even though they wrote negative things about “yuppies,” they probably had no dog in any hunt. They were just mean.
That said, this is the perfect place to discuss recovery reality.
Let me say that I had a very enjoyable experience when I visited. The people who own each booth are friendly. They aim to please. The food — I had a Croque Madam — was okay. A little too much bread and not enough seasoning. It’ll get better. Look at the owner of Shank — the cafe — in the top picture. She is all smiles. Her two employees were friendly. They worked fast and efficiently. I waited less than ten minutes for my meal. The price was fine. More importantly for me, in this day of general photographer distrust, as I wandered around taking pictures nobody cared. In fact, everybody seemed to welcome it. Visually, what more could I want? A bright and airy place to make pictures of happy people. And, food.
But. You knew this was coming.
See that woman looking into the paper bag? She’s counting my red potatoes. The little vegetable stand had the best prices in the city. The key word is “little.” Even though the owners promised fresh, locally grown produce, this counter is tiny. There is a very small selection. Yes. It is located right in front when you walk in the door. That’s just about positioning. Making a point… by stretching the truth.
The rest of the place is filled with small plate trendy foods. There is a wine store in the back and a lot of dessert vendors. Nothing wrong with that.
But, the neighborhood needs a grocery store. A real one. A modern one. There is a regional grocery store — new and modern, but tiny — in the French Quarter. That’s it, until you get to the CBD a mile or so away upriver. Downriver? Good try. There is nothing but corner “food stores” from the Quarter until you reach pretty deeply into St. Bernard Parish about five miles away. This area includes the Upper and Lower 9th Wards. It is a food desert. The good folks at Make-It-Right, who built so many houses in the Lower 9th Ward, are aware of it and are trying to figure out what to do.
When the vandals first struck, many people though it was an act of protest. But, as I wrote, it wasn’t neighborhood people who did it. But, neighborhood people want, need and were hoping for a modern grocery story. They aren’t rich. Many ride bicycles because they don’t own cars. Yes, it is true that St. Roch Market employs local people. That helps. Some. They’d hoped for more raw food and not so much trendy cooked food. One costs more than the other. A lot more. Unfortunately, the owners still haven’t really addressed the issue. I doubt that they will. Not as long as the current iteration of the market is successful.
And, there you have it.
Two sides to every coin. I think this example is far more powerful than my ranting about the city not really having recovered from the storm. You’ve had enough of that. Besides, after reading today’s news, I think the New York Times and The Washington Post got it. They are doing less celebratory public relations semi-reporting and are now talking about both sides of an incomplete and unfinished recovery.
The pictures. Check it out. I figured how to do a proper gallery. It didn’t a take long. What takes normal people a few hours can take me a few weeks. If you like the thumbnails, click on one. It’ll open to a 12 x 8 inch photograph. This is step one in a major upgrade. I’ll talk about that as I work toward it. It’ll be lighter in feel, have a white background and a lot of the clutter will be moved into the background. It will also be the home of Laskowitzpictures.com as well as dot org. That’s my more commercial site. You’ll also be able to buy art prints or license them for more commercial uses. Books and e-books, too. Some of you have asked about that.
I’ve been complaining about the never-ending media coverage of the Tenth Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Sometimes seeing all of this coverage reminds of me things I should photograph. That’s a good thing. The Guardian, based in the United Kingdom did that yesterday. I’d forgotten about the Musicians Village. On the other hand, I about choked while I was listening to NPR today. They’ve been talking about Katrina almost every day. Today, some announcer said that he realized that their daily coverage was lacking. But, not to worry. Next week, NPR will really be stepping up their daily stories.
The problem with all of this “big time” coverage is that reporters and sometimes photographers drop in for a week or maybe ten days. They report as if they truly understand the city. They don’t. How could they? Usually, they get all sorts of things wrong. I’m not just talking about little details that get passed around by locals. I’m talking about not asking the next obvious question. The reporter who wrote the story about Musicians Village turned the piece into an over all wrapper for music in New Orleans. That’s great. But, here’s a thing — not so small — that he missed. He was writing about Kermit Ruffins, a beloved trumpeter who used to live in Treme. He evacuated to Houston, Texas during the storm. He played early on in the recovery at a place in the Bywater, called Vaughn’s. For years he had a Thursday night residency there. On his first night back, he mostly played for recovery teams. Most of us had not returned yet.
That’s all true.
What the reporter missed is this. Even though Kermit owns a club here, plays a residency at another club and odd nights at other places, he still lives in Houston with his family. He’s a long distance commuter.
That happened a lot. Maybe not the commuting thing. But, a lot of people who were born and raised here never came back. Once they saw that life after New Orleans was pretty good, they decided to stay where they landed. Let’s face it. New Orleans is a pretty interesting place. It has a very cool reputation. It is a city very different from any city in The United States. But, living here can be pretty hard.
Not coming back cuts both ways. Some people didn’t return because they didn’t want to. Others want to come home and can’t.
Musicians Village. It was the brainchild of musicians Harry Connick Jr. and Branford Marsalis. It was mostly built by 70,000 volunteers for Habit for Humanity. It is located in the Upper 9th Ward in a neighborhood that was devastated by the flood waters. There are 72 houses, 5 elder-friendly duplexes, a community center and a toddler park. A couple of these pictures were made at the toddler park. The houses are not always grouped together. Some are hard to find. Mortgages are very reason able, but you must commit to a 20 year note and provide some sweat equity. Construction began in March 2006. The first three were completed by June 2006. Musicians didn’t just need a play to live. They probably needed everything. Even instruments. Tipitina’s Foundation helped out with that.
The neighborhood is still in various states of repair. I actually found a house that had absolutely no work done to it since the storm blew in. That’s pretty rare these days. The real hulks have been torn down. There are other houses that are in fine shape. Some were being work on as I passed by. Some had work started and stopped. You’ll see some of these buildings in later posts.
It’s a funny thing about the musicians who evacuated. No matter where they landed, they tried to work. I remember going to see Ivan Neville’s — yes one of those Nevilles, the son of Aaron — Dumpstaphunk at a winery somewhere between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico. They play pure funk. They blew the roof off the place. If I’m not mistaken, they evacuated to Denver. Only a few hours drive from Santa Fe.
A big trumpet. It’s located in the toddler park. I don’t know if it was intended to be, but since it’s kitty corner to the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music, it seems to be the landmark at the village’s center.
Piano keys. This too, is located within the toddler park. The park ground cover is made of rubber. When a toddler falls down he or she doesn’t go boom. He bounce right back up.
A village house. What can I say? New Orleans colors. Most of the houses aren’t quite as vibrant as this one. This may actually be an earlier house since the paint is starting to show some wear.
The Ellis Marsalis Center is a pretty busy place. There is a musical venue there. You might have guessed that. 150 seats. Look at the prices. VIP gets you a table and dinner.
All day presidents look out windows
All night sentries watch the moonglow
All are waiting till the time is right
Son, don’t be home too late
Try to get back by eight
Son, don’t wait till the break of day
‘Cause you know how time fades away.
Time fades away
You know how time fades away.
I said that I would do more nature work. I did. Sometimes I can’t help myself. I just seem to head right for the junk pile. The abandoned stuff. Things that are falling apart.
This picture combines both subjects. Nature and dystopia. It also supports Neil Young’s words, “Rust never sleeps.” Either does nature. It just seeks stasis. It reclaims the silly stuff we’ve done to it.
I found this old abandoned and broken house in St. James Parish along Highway 18, which is River Road when you get further downriver near New Orleans. The house has been left on its own for a long time. There is no outdoor paint to speak of. There are two layers of fences. One is broken and falling down. The other fence doesn’t protect anything. There is still furniture inside that dates back to the 1920s. It’s ruined. That’s why it’s still there. I’m not sure whether the church next door is the owner. But, if they don’t own it, the house lies right on the property line.
The church is St. Philip Catholic Church. It is an old white structure that is still used for services. There is a wonderful cemetery behind it which was not our intended destination. You’ll see more pictures of this old house and the cemetery as the month wears on. Just in case… it is located in Vacherie, Louisiana. According to Wikipedia, Vacherie means cow shed in French. According to the French – English dictionary we use, it means a dirty trick. I dunno. Maybe it means dirty, tricky cow shed.
At any rate, Vacherie is plantation country. Oak Alley, Laura, Felicity and St. Joseph plantations are still there. We didn’t go to any of them. That wasn’t our intent. For once this week we were determined to stick with our intent. Oh, and for fans of the cable series, True Detective was made here.
I didn’t do much to this picture. I didn’t have to. Nature did it.
… I lied. Not a big lie. Not a whopper. A little one. I wrote that Spring was over in New Orleans. I ought to get out more. Before I blew that pop stand, I did my semi-monthly swing through the Lower Ninth Ward. I’m determined to follow its progress photographically as it tries to come back from the devastation caused by the storm. That storm.
What did I see? What caught my eye?
All over the place. Some were coming to the end of their season. But, others were just blooming. Okay. Okay. I was wrong. Spring isn’t over in New Orleans. Or… maybe I saw summer flowers. There. Take that.