Thinking about NOLA

July 22, 2013

Destroyed sign in Lower 9 Ward three years after Katrina.

Copyright 2008 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

There has been a domino effect on my thinking lately.  I started watching Treme, which is set in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  The storylines of most of the major characters serve to illustrate the changes brought to the lives of the residents as a result of the devastation from the storm.  On vivid display is the culture of New Orleans, as represented by the music, the food, and infused throughout, the committment of the people to re-build, both materially and emotionally, in the area considered very strongly to be home.  Some do better than others.

Gutted interior of house in Lower 9 Ward three years after Katrina.

Copyright 2008 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

That led me to re-watch When the Levees Broke, the HBO documentary by Spike Lee.  This creates a very different viewing experience as it is much more raw and evocative as these are real people, not characters in a show.  That is not to be interpreted as a criticism of Treme-it just is.  Treme is a representation; When the Levees Broke is the reality-at least as seen through Spike Lee and the individuals interviewed.  It is striking to layer one on the other and reflect on how they overlap on the themes mentioned above.  Importantly, the documentary adds a much wider scope: geographically, more area is covered as, after all, Katrina was a huge storm affecting the entirety of the Gulf Coast of the United States; visually, there are many more images of the totality of the destruction, especially the airborne footage, which absent the video, is difficult to comprehend. (Even with the video it is hard to wrap one’s head around the catastrophic failure of the city’s infrastructure.); and finally, politically, as the friction between the local government of New Orleans and the state government of Louisiana, and between the state and the Federal government, is presented in much greater detail in the documentary.  Herein lies some of the most important information to the understanding of how it is that such a disaster could occur in the first place, let alone the amount of time it took to mount any kind of effective response.  Indeed.

Trash outside house in Lower 9 Ward three years after Katrina.

Copyright 2008 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Former Mayor Ray Nagin often called New Orleans a “chocolate city” in reference to the number of people of colour residing there.  As a result, the socio-economic problems of New Orleans are often  framed in terms of race and once that happens, the individual people become stereotyped, then marginalized, and finally written off.  This is unfortunately true in both works of fiction and reality.

NOTE:  It is important to recognize that these three photographs were made in January 2008.  That would be 3 1/2 years after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.

Take care.

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