Muddy Water Gumbo & High Tide Blues: Images from New Orleans Post-Katrina
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An Exhibit by Delphine Fawundu-Buford
Approximately seven months after the devastation we call "Katrina," I took these photographs during my 10-day journey in New Orleans. I was granted this opportunity through the National Association of Black Journalists Gulf Coast Fellowship. This was my first trip to New Orleans, so I really didn't know what to expect. I distinctly remembered the rush of solemn feelings that took over me when my plane flew over the city. As I looked down onto the terrain filled with houses, I saw endless rooftops covered with blue plastic. I sat there and wondered what would await me in this city that I've always dreamed of visiting.
I stayed in the Central Business District right outside the French Quarter. Not really believing what my eyes were seeing, I looked up at the blown out windows of the larger than life office buildings that dominates this community. What was once a thriving community of department stores, small businesses and restaurants, was now a ghost town of boarded up store-fronts with signs that read "closed" or "for sale."
I went to visit the Lower 9th Ward on my first day in New Orleans. On the way there, we drove by boarded up homes with markings on them, stating the dates they were searched and how many bodies were found. I instantly imagined the people who were swimming through toxic waters, trying to find refuge, and possibly losing their lives on these very streets. I was left overwhelmed by these grim feelings.
When I got to the Lower 9th Ward, I was not prepared for what my eyes saw, endless destruction of homes on top of homes, personal belongings of residents were all over the streets, homes on a 45 degree tilt, cars injected into homes, it was pure devastation. I felt that I couldn't capture the reality of what I saw in a single picture, so I created a collage of small 5X7's titled, The 9th Ward Remains just to give viewers a taste of how severe the destruction was. I spent most of my time in the 9th Ward photographing personal items of the people who once lived there. Looking at silverware, plates, albums and clothing reminded us that these were everyday people who were affected. I couldn?t even imagine what I would've done if I were in this situation.
Late one night around 11pm, on my way in from a poetry reading, my ears were blessed by the sounds of a youth brass band "To Be Continued." I met this young group of talented teenage men, on the corner of Canal Street. They were playing their hearts out in front of a boarded up Foot Locker with a cardboard box in front of them to collect donations. They played everything from classic New Orleans Second Line music, to their own jazz versions of Trey Songz and John Legend. During a cappella interludes they sang, "We're just ordinary people, we're just ordinary people." The sweet sounds of the horns struck every emotional chord in my body, one minute I was laughing in amazement, and then I was choked up wondering how could the talents of these young men be nurtured anywhere else. When I asked them, they couldn?t imagine living in any other city. Every last one of them was displaced, living with relatives or friends, some, away from their immediate family, in hopes of one day returning home. The goal for the evening was to collect $400 bucks so the ten of them would go home with $40 each.
On my only Sunday in New Orleans, I found myself engaged in one of the most cultural, spiritual and communal events, a Second Line Parade. On this day, The Revolution Social & Pleasure Club hosted the parade with the Rebirth Jazz Band. I've never been to Mardi Gras, so I had no idea of what a Second Line would be like. I was completely astonished by what I was engaged in.
New Orleanian's from as far as Atlanta, Jacksonville, and Houston came home just for the Second Line. I snapped photographs as I walked for miles throughout the city amongst people talking, reuniting, eating, and of course dancing to the soulful music of the Rebirth Jazz Band. Every now and then the line would make a stop and the Revolution S&P dressed in white suits with feathered white fans would break out into the Second Line dance.
It was almost like people caught a spirit and they lost control expressing their feelings through dance. In the photograph titled, "The Revolution S&P in the Spirit," a paralyzed member of the Revolution actually threw himself out of his wheelchair onto the floor, his body then began moving to the rhythmic beat that the bass carried. On this day, I could imagine, people were able to put traumatic thoughts of Katrina to the side, and enjoy the feeling of community, with hopes that joy would come in the morning.