The more things change, the more they stay the same. Last weekend I received a first place award from the Press Club of New Orleans for a photo essay on Katrina in Cultural Vistas, the magazine of the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. In addition, and much to my surprise, I was also given the Hal Ledet Award for Photography. Two nice little trophies to adorn my mantle. As it would have it, it's Tuesday, the day the power usually goes out. We only lost it for about 45 minutes this evening, but that was long enough for me to photograph the awards and the magazine by flashlight. Ain't life grand?!?
UPDATE: May 16, 2006. After my last update, I had a few pointed calls and emails from friends. They were worried about me, and wanted me to know that they had NOT forgotten about us or New Orleans. Their love is comforting. And perhaps I got a little ahead of myself. It was a glorious Mardi Gras, and we just finish a remarkable Jazz Fest, and we're about to have a runoff election between incumbent Mayor Ray Nagin and Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu. We still have people's attention: after all, hurricane season begins in just two weeks. Next week, a major exhibition opens at the New Orleans Museum of Art: "Katrina Exposed" will feature more than 800 images by more than 100 photographers. Curator of Photography, Steven Maklansky, chose to have an open submission and plans on hanging everything. It will be overwhelming, and may force many people to confront this disaster.
I have been busy. But the work has taken it's toll. Over the weekend I did only my third non-Katrina assignment in eight months. I still have problems sleeping. While I have stopped having hurricane dreams months ago, I am still deeply effected in other ways. I know I should be over in the Lower Ninth renewing my contacts, keeping the story alive, but I just can't bring myself to do it. Friends come to visit from out of town, and I give them tours, but warn them I can only take about 30 minutes at a time. New Orleans has certainly come a long way, but it will be years before it will the city it once was, if at all.
In order for New Orleans to recover and survive, the federal government much make a commitment to restoring the wetlands. Historian Douglas Brinkley writes in his new book,'The Great Deluge:' "Through coastal erosion and man-made engineering mistakes, nearly one million acres of buffering wetlands in southeastern Louisiana disappeared between 1930 and 2005." (page 9).
We were sitting ducks. The devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina was predicted for many years. Still it came out of nowhere, and we simply were not prepared. But it got our attention. Now it is time to fight for our city, for our neighborhoods, for the soul of New Orleans. For now, we continue to call New Orleans home. But it is not easy. It is a tradition for me to stand on Canal Street on Mardi Gras Day and turn to a friend and exclaim: "It's a Tuesday afternoon in February. What are they doing, RIGHT NOW, in Des Moines? What are they doing in Salt Lake City? Muncie? Syracuse? It's just another day for them. But we're parading and dancing in the streets!" Ain't life grand!
I have finally mounted my ninth gallery, "Katrina and Carnival." I realize that Mardi Gras was over two and a half months ago, and that I have gotten even slower in my changes and updates, but it's never too late, or too early, to delight in the spirit of Carnival! Please don't forget about us. We are the soul of America.
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