New Orleans: Photos & Essay

I said to the M.A.S. on the last night of our L.A. vacation: “you’re the image, i’m the words.”  A metaphor for our relationship constructed of his photography work and my writing. 

He’s recently uploaded hundreds of his photos of New Orleans on Flickr – the majority of which were taken during joint visits to the region since January 2006.  His work is foremost a testament to the city, and is accompanied by a moving essay describing his love affair with it, including his mourning and desires for the place since Katrina hit in August ’05.  He writes:

In order to appreciate what New Orleans is experiencing now, one must have a sense of context about the history and culture of the city, a willingness to face the painful details of what happened during the storm and flood, and a commitment to express one’s own view honestly and clearly about what’s happening now. To me, photographing the city now is not an exercise in melancholy, just as considering New Orleans built heritage and culture is not an excuse to avoid race and socio-economic concerns. These elements of life in New Orleans are interconnected. Any long term strategy for rebuilding New Orleans must take into account these complex forces and, especially, historic continuity. New Orleans deserves our respect and our assistance. Much more of both are needed if New Orleans is going to recover.

These images cannot possibly capture the scale of the physical destruction…Nor can they attest to the human suffering that has resulted. Or properly memorialize a site of profound trauma…Although many of the images I’ve included here depict businesses that have re-opened (albeit usually with limited hours) or homes that escaped damage, under the surface of a partial return to normalcy and the enormous amount of civic spirit and resolve on display lies great uncertainty about the future. 

His words remain true today, despite the tremendous population gains the city has made in the last two and a half years.

For Redstar/M.A.S. fans, looking at these images gives you some insight into our relationship.  After initial – and successful – stabs at friendship in the fall of ’05, when the M.A.S. arrived at MIT, it was during his trip to New Orleans in late January ’06, where I’d been residing for the month working with community activists on behalf of progressive funders, that our romance started to take shape.  We spent a really intense, difficult day together, driving through devastated neighborhoods that I’d begun to know and he once knew before the flood.  We had a long, unwinding lunch with a bottle of wine late that afternoon, where the conversational intimacies also flowed, and at one point he said to me sharply, “you know I trust you, right?” And I nodded, very seriously, waiting for the next confidence.  He took my photo later, with his new camera.  When I showed him the house I’d just rented for a year with a professor and an ex (fellow grad student), he joked about watching the glassware being hurled in fury across the long dining room table, and I comfortably laid with my head on his back when he flopped down on one of the beds for a short rest.  When we got back to Boston the following week, I made him a mix tape (cd, actually) and asked him to dinner.  By the time of our next overlapping trip, in March, my friend Jessie predicted I’d be calling her up soon to tell her the M.A.S. and I had finally kissed.  Two days later, she got the call.

In all, we’ve had 5 trips together to New Orleans.  We were once at different places in our doctoral program, and he’s the primary reason I didn’t relocate there permanently in 2006.  If you’ve been following my writing on New Orleans here, you might consider these photos a visual accompaniment. 

I urge you to look at his work, and bookmark it, as there’s a lot to see and think about. 


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