What came before.

The city that care forgot. That’s us. New Orleans. Even as some areas are gentrified and priced out of the locals ability to buy or rent, others still languish almost 16 years after they were flooded by Hurricane Katrina.

It’s likely that many of these neighborhoods were failing long before the storm did its thing and put the final nails in their coffins.

And, that’s too bad. In this day and age of low housing stock and extreme rising costs of home ownership or rental, these flooded houses might have been able to reduce the pain.

However, these old buildings have been sitting for a long time. The city deems them unrepairable and demolishes them. I suppose that might be the way to go. But, it seems wrong to me even though I know it costs less to build something new rather than to restore and rebuild.

And, you wonder where my weird dreams come from?

Mix real life New Orleans with other real life experiences with whatever is buried in my brain and you get strange dreams.

I’ll write more about part of my dream in the next coming days. I haven’t forgotten. I can’t forget.

When I first photographed this abandoned house, the bushes and trees were green but manageable.

The next time I went back everything was overgrown. And then, the last time I returned everything was dying in place.

I haven’t been back in a while. I suspect that by now the little remaining wood of the house has started to rot. The bushes aren’t dying because they have truly been embedded themselves in the ruined building.

Photographing them is easy. It’s really just documentary work, and presenting the pictures to you.

As always.

One more thing. I’m starting to lose direction. I replied to a friend, that for me, social media has become a waste of time. It started from a question of privacy. She posted something on her blog and I started receiving ads for it here, on Storyteller.

Enough.

I’ll let you know, but I’m giving serious thought to ending Storyteller after 11 years of almost daily posting.

When I started this blog I thought it would be a way to generate work in one form or another. That hasn’t happened. I thought it would be a good way to build a community. I’ve grown a good number of readers but I never hear from you.

I read a lot of other blogs. I started looking at some of their comments. They get 80 or 90 on each post. At best, I get two or three on every other post, or something like that.

I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s me. I don’t know what it is about me but it is me.

They say with age comes wisdom. Understanding “It’s me” is very wise. I think.


What is left.

On a very humid walk.

We found these branches that were what remained of our storms.

Wasn’t sure about them until I photographed them and started processing them. Once I started stripping them back and allowed their natural color to emerge I knew the picture might work.

That’s one of my secret sauces.

I don’t add color. I remove color. Often times, adding color makes the image look too rich, too bloody as a friend of mined used to say. So, I’d rather subtract color and see where that takes me.

You can also tell that it’s late summer around here. Look at the background. It’s greenish. That’s the sidewalk and it’s mossy. Nothing in the shade ever truly dries out around here until sometime in late autumn when the humidity morphs into cold fog.

Even though the numbers seem to have blurred, the weather remembers. The weather tells us that we are still in motion. That there are still shadows and light. Good and bad. Let’s hope the tide changes and the goodness wins. And, the light shines.

Vote.

The picture

I pretty much explained the picture to you. At least my theory of unhancement. Spell check is going crazy with the word I just made up.

Stay safe. Stay mighty. Enjoy every bowl of gumbo.


Leftovers.

I was going to close out the “big storm” series. I even made a new picture. It combines the extent of the damage around this place with water.

But.

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” — Dr. Martin Luther King

I’ve promised you this space would not be political. I believe we all need a break from the daily madness. I want this space to be about art in all its forms. But, art is driven by circumstances. By daily life. By our own histories.

When the president who shall not be named tweeted his racist bullshit yesterday. I was stunned. Most of the country responded righteously. Twitter lit up like a pinball machine. Facebook wasn’t much quieter. His ploy to drive a wedge between Speaker Pelosi and the women that he told to go back where they came from, failed.

It gets worse. He doubled down. Senator Graham defended him. The rest of the Republican Party was silent.

Now we know.

The President of The United States is an out and out racist. Oh, we knew it. We knew his red lining record as a real estate owner. We heard him defend white power groups after the violence at Charlottesville, Virginia. But, yesterday he said it. He said what racists have said to people of color for years and years. He confirmed it.

Enough.

Not only does Donald J. Trump (there, I said his name) have to go, but the Republican senators and representatives have to be voted out en masse. Gone. All gone.

I urge you in my country to run for something. Anything. It starts from the ground up. And, you must vote. We have to get these racist, mean, scared old white men out of power. I said it before Trump was elected, that we would leave the country if he won. We decided to stay and fight back. To resist. I can assure that that if he is re-elected, I won’t know my country, and we will leave. Even if we are strangers in a strange land it will be better than living in the country of my birth. That’s terribly sad.

One more note.

Before you think that everything was bad on Sunday, it wasn’t. Thanks to YouTube, I got to see Sir Paul McCartney play with Ringo Starr from Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. The last time that happened was when The Beatles played there over 50 years ago. Then, I got to see Neil Young sing with Bob Dylan for the first time since 1994. They played an old traditional tune. “Will the Circle Be Broken?’

Answer.

No. It won’t.

Peace.

 


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.


What remains.

This is what remains. Before it is taken down. Carted off for scrap. Left to rot in the land fill. I haven’t been to this neighborhood in a long while. I don’t want to get shot. I doubt this building is still standing. There are other pictures in my archive that have been made from a side view. It is interesting to note that the house was leaning heavily to the right. The next time that I went back, more parts fell off. It was leaning to the left. Usually, when I building sort of rocks back and forth, the next step is collapse. We call that demolition by neglect.

Speaking of archives. And, collapse.

One of you kindly wrote that even if I can’t shoot second lines, masked indians and the culture anymore that it didn’t matter because my old archives would eventually surface here.

Nope. No way. No how.

It may be nothing more than a point of pride, but the only pictures from those collections that make it here, or anywhere for that matter, are the best, the ones with the peak decisive moment, and the newest. The rest of that days work are out takes. They live in my files only because I’m old school and I never throw away an image. I don’t delete.

So.

If I say that I’m done then I’m done. I don’t like it much. It speaks about getting old. I’m giving up something that I really like to do. And, I miss the companionship. I will occasionally come out for something like I did last week. A second line for a person who was a friend to us all. I’ll do it for a jazz funeral… if I know the person being honored. But, that’s different. You know why.

So.

Today.

This picture is about me. I asked yesterday what the picture meant to you. Some of you answered. Cool and thank you. There’s a lot of post production going on. But, it’s sneaky. Subtle. Even, maybe, sublime. Sublime is about the last thing that you’d ever say about my work. And yet.


Bit and pieces.

See?

I told you I really wasn’t changing direction all that much. I hope that you believed me. You have no reason to because I change directions on Storyteller, every chance that I get. Sometimes.

This is the inside of the Chapel at St. Roch Cemetery. I think everybody who finds their way to this place takes a version of this picture. I tinkered with it in every way possible and it still looks like the same thing everybody else publishes. Kind of. Sort of.

The real eye catcher is the red heart. It pops out of the wall because I helped it a lot in post production. I brightened the red. I scrubbed it. I cleaned it. I wanted it to be the centerpiece without it obviously trying too hard.

St. Roch, itself. Well, just type that into the search area here and you can find maybe four or five pieces that I’ve written about it. Suffice it to say, the  St. Roch Chapel is thought of as sort of a Lourdes of the region. All of those things left on the wall are a thank you in some form. People were cured. They could walk again. They could talk again. They could hear again. Apparently, give that one item looks like a brain, someone could think again.

Just sayin’.


Bohn Motors Building
Bohn Motors Building

I know what you are thinking.

You’re wrong. I’m not stuck in Hurricane Katrina pictures. New Orleans has a lot of nicknames. One is the city that care forgot. Bohn Motors was abandoned long ago. In fact, I think it was some kind of community center pre-storm.

I’d love to accurately tell you when Bohn Motors first left the city, moved to the suburbs and then moved across the river, but there doesn’t seem to be any historical information. They are major car dealers. They are no longer just a Ford agency. They seem to sell just about everything these days. And, they are a very big name around these parts.

I have no idea if this building will ever be restored. I suspect so, just because it is solid brick, has great bones and there is a lot of potential in those big metal skylight frames. But, it has no roof. That wouldn’t stop me. Sheesh. I bought a house with no back. Three stories, and the back just fell down. And, off.

Yes. I did shoot this picture when I was tearing around shooting the “Katrina Collection,” but it didn’t fit in, so I left it out. Until now.

The picture. Yes. Yes. Yes. Lots of heavy post production. I wanted the picture to look like it felt when I took it. The raw file is actually kind of boring. So, it was off to work I went. Before you ask, I don’t know. I tinker around until I the picture finds me. I start with some sort of vision. That rarely works out. So, I just let the picture lead me. It takes some time, but eventually I can be taught.


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.