August 26, 2015

Restored house in the Muscian's Village

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

While reading the responses to articles about the anniversary of Katrina and New Orleans, there were several from residents of the city who were stating that they found the attention to be too much of a reminder of what happened 10 years ago.  That is a point well taken.

Back in my chemical dependency counselor days, we used to talk about “environmental cues,” which is a term referring to being in the same or similar places or doing similar activities that served as powerful reminders of drug use.  For example, for someone with a history of smoking cocaine, using a lighter to ignite a cigarette could be an environmental cue.  The result could be an “evoked craving”-the powerful urge to use the drug.  A similar process occurs with some combat veterans who experience Post Traumatic Stress.  Fireworks on the 4th of July, for example, can be difficult due to the concussive sound and bright explosions, both of which may serve to exacerbate the experience of war.  All of this has its roots in the manner by which the brain stores memories.  One fundamental way to cope with this is to avoid the situations containing the problematic stimulus.

In popular culture, the term that appears to be used for the same concept is “trigger warnings”.  That is, when about to discuss information that may be disturbing to some, an announcement is made about the nature of the content so that individuals can be prepared or make the decision to step out from the presentation.  The concern is that the content will “trigger” the recall and subjective re-experiencing of a painful event.  I listen to National Public Radio a lot and, with some degree of frequency, listeners are advised that difficult material is about to be discussed.  The warning, in turn, gives the audience the opportunity to change the station or lower the volume if so needed.

Lower 9 Tourist Sign

(C) Copyright 2008 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

And so it also goes with Katrina and New Orleans.  This 10-year anniversary certainly must be a difficult time for many as the videos, photographs, and stories are presented.  There is a concept in photography called “disaster porn” or “ruin porn”. This refers to the stimulation that comes from viewing destruction and human suffering.  For example, in the aftermath of Katrina, there were bus companies that organized tours of the city so folks could ride in air-conditioned comfort while viewing the aftermath.  There is a scene in the first season of HBO’s Treme where a bus stops by a group mourning the death of friend and there are camera flashes firing through the windows as people are taking pictures of the grieving.  The issue here is one of disrespect and exploitation as driving through, taking a picture, and then leaving does no service to the community.

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

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

On the other hand, without photographs and testimony, the power of the experience would have been lost.  The difference between exploitation and understanding is time-taking the time to learn about the history; taking the time to talk with the people who were directly affected; and taking the time to help with the recovery.  As many have said, Katrina, the hurricane, was a natural disaster.  Katrina, the flood, was a man-made catastrophe.  Therein lies a significant difference, and understanding those circumstances, especially as they were experienced by those in New Orleans East or the Lower 9, is incredibly important.  The images in these last few posts have been used as part of the content in Sociology and Psychology classes as it is necessary to understand the historical and cultural circumstances that allowed Katrina to be what she was.  I have no idea how many people who experienced the storm read these posts and most certainly my intention is not to exacerbate any traumatic memories.  I do get very concerned that we sometimes have very short memories and we sometimes were not informed enough to have a memory to forget.

The culture that created Katrina, the catastrophe, still exists.

Fortunately, the culture that has allowed parts of the city to rebound also exists.  Perhaps not so coincidentally, The Diane Rehm Show broadcast this discussion about the nature of resilience a few days ago.  It is worth a listen as the science of recovery from trauma is explained as are the steps one can take to cope with traumatic experiences.  One of those steps is to become active in the building of community.  The photograph at the top of this post is from the Musician’s Village, which was an effort created by Branford Marsalis, Harry Connick, Jr. and New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity.  Please do use the link to read more about this important project.  Thousands of volunteers from across the country went to New Orleans to assist in whatever way possible.  I consider myself fortunate to have had that opportunity.

Take care.



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