Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans: Summer 2011

Travel is one of the highest forms of personal achievement I can feel in this life, and an experience to be treasured in this time period more grandly. Getting to see the world from another person or people’s point of view is something only recently made so easy to do, through the simple transfer of one’s physicality to another place in geography. I mark these treasures onto my very soul, as if checking items of a list. A point in landscape becomes another place in time, due directly to time zones, indirectly within a certain state of mind, or in this case, forcefully via remnants left behind. New Orleans holds in its heart a place now relevant and special to a greater spacial continuum than ever before. The Lower 9th Ward of NOLA is where the mark of Hurricane Katrina’s destruction was left most visible, like an ugly tattoo painfully drawn in a blur during a youthful evening sure to become a mistake later. This is where we passed through on our way to the 4-day festival of Bonnaroo, which means really good times in Cajun.

Driving through the main city gave few signs that anything was amiss. People walked their dogs, drove on well-paved roads, sat in the thick humidity on front porches.

When we passed over this bridge into the Lower 9th Ward we began to see the signs of havoc caused by Katrina over 5 years ago.

 

More pictures of what we saw that day are on my Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/57652151@N07/sets/72157629342325752/

While photographing this area, it was hard not to feel like an outsider, someone spared from everything most of the locals had seen and been through in recent years. I wanted to capture the state of things as they were — amazingly undealt with on some blocks, entirely. After five years of publicity, pain, and adversity, many still don’t have their homes intact. Even in the most desolate, damaged pockets of neighborhood, people live on.

 

What We Saw

Some sat on porches overlooking fields of yellow coneflowers growing out of the devastation; some chased free ranging chickens around the streets with scrap metal and glass underfoot; others just stared at us taking in their uniquely hellish views. Houses raised a whole story above ground, as if on stilts, were still ravaged, weeds now occupying the lower levels that were expected to withstand a natural calamity. Nature took back the manmade. The local church was shut down, barricaded, as the sunset poured an apologetic light onto its decaying walls.

All seemed to be coated in a settled chaos, but some locals held onto fairly bright spirits; one even gave us a friendly wave as we passed through. Others had chosen a different path, had long since turned their grief into drug addiction, and wandered with firey, glass eyes where they may have once strolled happily with family and friends. Getting back out of the neighborhood was relieving. I’d heard about the ruins of real estate, but I hadn’t understood the vibe of the area until basking in its sadness, despair, and tarnished but withstanding hopefulness.

The sadness of what I felt that day still tugs at my heart. I see why people want to help NOLA locals– because once you’re there, you see that the piles of rubbish are not rubbish at all — they are formerly houses, structures of community that individuals yearn for like home — like the state of “home” we all desire. But they can’t go back to theirs to lay their heads down at night. They’re scattered, waiting all over in a state of displacement. What a great American tragedy to let such a thing sit for so long.