In June of this year my husband and I flew to New Orleans to begin the southern leg of my Stranded series. The series was inspired in part by the live TV images of desperate people stranded on their roof tops in the hours and days following Katrina. We did a six day loop through Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee and I was moved by the scale of the tragedy and the individual stories of lives upended. During our trip I developed a strong connection to that part of the country and to the generous people trying hard just to get back to normal.
When I returned to New York and talked with friends I struggled to communicate the extent of the damage. I would say things like, "think of the biggest natural disaster you've seen and then multiply it by a hundred." Beyond the destruction and tragedy, I also struggled to communicate the strength and resolve of the people I met, the profound sense of community, and the still vibrant cultural imprint within the affected areas. After seeing the photos of Polidori, Jordon, Epstein, Wilkes, Alt, et al. that detail the aftermath of the hurricane and flood on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast I had a strong fear that these images of ruin could become the prevailing and lasting memory of the community and people that were, and remain, the cultural soul of this country.
Switch to six months later...
I have taken a few months off from my photography to go back to New Orleans and coordinate the Do You Know What It Means project. DYKWIM is a web based initiative to document and archive pre-Katrina life in the Crescent City. Charles Traub, co-founder of the project, has done an amazing job making this a true collaborative effort bringing together the School of Visual Arts (my alma mater), the SVA Alumni Society, the Historic New Orleans Collection, the National Park Service, George Mason’s Center for History and New Media, the University of New Orleans, and too many others to mention. We will focus on the most effected areas of the city, both residential and commercial, in an effort to recreate and rebuild community in areas devastated by the hurricane and flood. The project will collect and archive old images, family snapshots, video footage, and documents that describe and celebrate everyday life in New Orleans before Katrina. The hope is the archive will result in a virtual representation of New Orleans that will in turn help bring a scattered community back together
I urge you to learn more about the project and get involved if you can.
UPDATE: From the department of like minds... Over at Conscientious, Joerg Colberg ponders the impact of the recent spate of post-Katrina fine art photos.