Valerie Schexnayder stands in front of her new home on Reynes Street in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans on the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Below, Kerriyon Perkins, 6, holds on to her grandmother, Priscilla, during ceremonies on the Claiborne Avenue bridge. The elder Perkins is wearing a t-shirt commemorating her grandfather, George Perkins, who died after the levees were breached in the Lower Ninth August 29, 2005. Hanging over all of the anniversary events was the anticipated arrival of Hurricane Gustav. Gustav is expected to enter the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday as a category two storm. It's current track has it making landfall west of New Orleans near Morgan City.
KATRINA UPDATE JUNE 1st, 2008:
It's hard to acknowledge the first day of the Atlantic hurricane season when I am currently staying more than 1,000 miles from the Gulf of Mexico. The first named storm of the season has come and gone. But weatherman suggested that Sub-Tropical Storm Arthur, which skirted the Yucatan Peninsula, meant that hurricane season was "in full swing." Well, not exactly. I may not be there right now, but I plan on being back soon. And I know that for the next six months, New Orleanians, as well as the entire Gulf Coast will be on edge. Every time a storm forms, we will track it's path closely, wondering if and when it will be best to leave. Before Katrina, we had become complaisant. But now everyone is terrified. Nobody has any confidence in the levees and we all know that New Orleans could be devastated all over again. Nevertheless, I am returning to the city for a month this summer. We're enrolling Uma at summer camp at Loyola. It will strange to be back after living in a quiet debris and crime free community. But I realize it is part of my being.
The quarter in Ohio is over, and I have finished teaching two classes, the first in almost 20 years. It was a good experience and I hope I will have the opportunity to do more. In the meantime, I am hoping to resume freelance work, but I fear it will be very slow. The phone has not been ringing with offers of work. Maybe all of the editors I have worked with over the years know I am not in New Orleans right now. Or maybe there is no work. With $4 a gallon gasoline a reality, the strain of the freelance market is staggering. Who knows if there will be any work at all when I return.
I have mounted my final Katrina gallery. It is a series of portraits of the congregation at Eagles Wings Ministries Church of God in Christ. They were made last year as the congregation celebrated the re-opening of their sanctuary in the Lower Ninth Ward. Because they are so formal, I was never sure what to do with these portraits. They are not like any of my other Katrina work. But they speak to resilience not only of Pastor Raymond Hunter and his congregation, but also to the strength of courage of the entire city. I present them now, at the end of my Katrina project, as a tribute to all us who have survived.
Meanwhile, there have been some good projects afoot. Leslie Parr, a professor of photojournalism at Loyola University, put together a very compelling oral history with four photographers who covered Hurricane Katrina. She did interviews and slide shows for the website of The Journal of American History. It features three staff photographers from the Times-Picayune, Kathy Anderson, Ted Jackson, John McCusker, and me. I am honored to be included with such as distinguished group. There has apparently been some problems with this link causing browsers to crash. If you're having problems, you can go straight to the link for my slide show.
In addition, the April issue of Photo District News, better known simply as PDN, has a feature on me and my exhibit "Letters From My Father" which was on display last fall at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans. It appears on pages 136-8. Check it out.
A Frontline documentary on Herbert Gettridge and his family will be airing soon on PBS. I went to see Mr. G. before I left. He looks good. The house looks good, and the Lower Ninth even looks good. Of course, there is not a whole lot in the Lower Ninth right now. The city seems to be keeping many of the lots clear of weeds. With most of the debris gone, and the houses torn down, it's just a big open lot. There has been some new construction, and many of the trailers have been removed. But let's not forget what happened here.
And finally, John Glenn, former photo editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution invited me to contribute to his photography blog. A great photographer and a sweetheart to boot, John is on his way to China to cover the Olympics. Check out my entry and his site. Katrina is still THE story for those still living in New Orleans. But the rest of the world has moved on. I came to the realization a number of months ago that I have nothing further to say about Katrina. There are still plenty of stories to be told, but I am done. I can't really complain. I've done the best work of my life. Sadly, very few people outside New Orleans care anymore. Having mounted my final Katrina gallery, the Lagniappe section of this website will eventually return to its original purposes: to highlight side projects and other gems that might otherwise escape the light of day. Stay tuned, and remember, as always, to think peace.
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