With the wonderful “Desire” Exhibition opening and lecture behind me, yesterday I was able to spend a little time concentrating on making photographs. New Orleans photographer Andrea Caldwell was kind enough to drive Mayumi Lake and me into the ninth ward for a few hours to see what progress or lack thereof has been made since Katrina three and a half years ago.
Our first stop was an art installation organized by the KKProjects Foundation. Artists have created enormous installations using entire houses destroyed by Katrina. By creating spaces that bring the public into an area that might otherwise be ignored, the affected neighborhoods get some much needed attention. Beautiful and unexpected.
The three of us then proceeded into the Lower Ninth Ward. It’s hard to believe that so much time has passed since Katrina, but this neighborhood still seems a bit frozen in time. We drove through blocks and blocks of desolate destruction.
Every once in a while, out of nowhere we found new construction and repair of one of the homes. An odd juxtaposition in a row of boarded up and abandoned homes. Like pioneers in the old west, those who return have few nearby neighbors, almost standing guard alone for blocks at a time. There is hope there, but it seems far too little progress.
There is an eerie quality about the Lower Ninth. We tried to be respectful of people’s property, never venturing too far into what was once the center of so many people’s lives. Now empty shells remain. The people scattered who knows where.
So many questions remain in this neighborhood. How can such a large part of a major American city continue to be neglected in such a blatant way? Where is the national outrage at broken promises and half finished assistance by the federal and local governments? Where is the leadership?
It’s not far behind these questions that you begin to ask yourself, if it had been the French Quarter or one of the more affluent neighborhoods that had been destroyed, would the aid have had greater urgency?
Those who have returned are facing tremendous challenges, but to see the handful of homes that are being restored or rebuilt with the pride that is such a normal part of New Orleans culture does create a ray of sunshine in the midst of the gray.
New Orleans is a completely unique city. There is nowhere else like it in the United States. A rich blend of Spanish, French and English history that combined to make a culture that is full of vibrance, creativity and life.
New Orleans may never fully recover from the effects of Katrina. When the hurricane struck the the population had already dwindled from its 700,000 high to about 500,000. Now increasing housing prices in the Quarter and other now in demand neighborhoods continue to shift the makeup of the city.
Like other large evolving cities, artists are finding areas to create communities and rebuild neighborhoods that have fallen into neglect. For a city known for it’s music and food, the New Orleans art scene making it’s presence known.
It has been a wonderful experience to be a part of it few a few days and now perhaps for a long time to come in the future. Thank you New Orleans Photo Alliance and everyone who made me feel so welcome. Tom, Andrea, Renee and Michelle. Very generous hosts. I’ll be back soon.