This is the house that once had the American flag hanging on one wall. If you’ve been around Storyteller for any length of time you remember it. The flag is long gone. Not much else has changed.
The neighborhood has changed. It’s starting to come back. But, this place? Nope. Even the piles of wood are still in the same place. There is a new water bottle in the foreground. Somebody has been there.
With that wide open door, I’m amazed the building hasn’t been torn up or covered in graffiti. Remember what I said yesterday? In New Orleans if it doesn’t move, it gets tagged. Not here. Not in the three years I’ve been passing by. There aren’t even any nosey and protective neighbors around to ask what I’m doing inside. That’s not to say there aren’t neighbors around. We wave to each other. But, there is not even a question about my intent.
The picture. The basic picture is just F8 and be there. The post production is maybe mid-level. I made the place glow. I shot it on a bright sunny day. I felt good. The day felt good. I made the picture look like I felt when I took it.
Nine years. We are coming to the ninth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina making landfall at Buras, Louisiana. You pretty much know the rest.
Since we’ve returned to New Orleans, I try to get out to the 9th Ward about once a month. Sometimes, travel gets in the way. But, I return as soon as I can. I like to document the rebuilding progress of a neighborhood that will never be the kind of vibrant community it was on August 28, 2005. The day before the storm arrived.
Before you get the impression that the neighborhood is not recovering, let me say that it is… slowly. Very slowly. But, some of the very highly designed “Make It Right” homes are showing their age after only a few years. And, even worse. I just read a story about Habitat for Humanity houses that are not only showing some age, but are falling apart. I think the reason is simple. We had a lot of help rebuilding this city. People came from everywhere. For us. They continue to come. Thank you, all. But, I don’t think they ever really understood our weather. It ages everything quickly. You have to stay on top of it. They did the best that they could.
There are the issues in the Lower 9th Ward that I’ve discussed in the past. Swamp bottom. Far below sea level. Spongy soil.
Even though so many houses were ripped from their foundations and stacked like cord wood close to the Industrial Levee, the further upriver you go, the less total destruction you see. Yes, many buildings were so badly damaged that they had to be torn down. They were under 15 feet of chemical filled water for a long time during a very hot summer. But, today, every here and there, you find an original building that was not torn down. Still standing.
This is one of them. Somewhere during the passing years, the house was remediated in order to stop mold from taking over everything. The walls were ripped out down to the bare wooden studs. They may have even been treated with our own home-brewed anti-mold solution. The experts tell you that bleach is enough. Not down here. The next step would have been to actually start the repairs. Something happened to stop that. So, it sits in the heat, the humidity, the rain and continues to rot.
I took my time in this house. I carefully looked for predators. No. Not the human kind. The animal variety. Snakes and alligators. Feral pigs. Wild dogs. Nobody was home so in I went.
This was the living room. I don’t know if this picture is ironic, symbolic or sad. You tell me. It’s almost nine years after the fact and still this little light fixture is hanging. The rest of the house is abandoned and in shambles, but this remains.
So. I met this guy a few weeks ago when I was poking around what is now called “The New Bywater.” New Bywater, indeed. It’s a an area of the Upper Ninth Ward. At one time it was downriver from a neighborhood called St. Roch. Well. It still is. The neighborhood didn’t move. It was just renamed. By realtors. While St. Roch was mostly built and developed by Germans, this area was developed by Italians. In fact, the building that Scot — that’s his name — is standing near, is actually Italianate in design. But, you wouldn’t know it. Not today.
So who is this guy? Well, he’s the king of this particular block of Marais Street. That’s not what he calls himself. He’s actually a pretty smart and well read guy. We talked for a while on a variety of topics. He also was a reporter for the Times-Picyune for ten years. He knows the area very well. Unlike a lot of guys I photograph in neighborhoods like these, he didn’t ask for anything except for a few pictures. I sent them today via email. He is living in the only functional and habitable house on the street. He looks after the others for their owners. Yes. This neighborhood was heavily flooded during Hurricane Katrina. The difference between this area and The Lower Ninth Ward is simple. The buildings in the Lower Ninth Ward were mostly swept away by powerful water. In this neighborhood, the houses took on 12 or 15 feet of water, but the water flow wasn’t strong enough to move the buildings. So, they sit in various stages of remediation. Or not. Some are just abandoned. They can be bought for very little money if you can find the legal owner. As you get closer to the main street in the area — St. Claude — many of the houses have been rebuilt by a new population. Hipsters.
The picture. The photographic technique is simple. The approach is also simple. Smile. Talk to the subject. And, ask if I could take his picture. Oh yeah. Make sure that I kept my promise. Send him some pictures.