From Jim McKeever:
Currently I am a mature student at the University of Ulster, in Belfast, Northern Ireland. This fall I am heading into my third and final year of a photography degree. Because of my current university requirements the last time I was over in New Orleans was Jazz Fest 2007.
I have just started planning my final year project which is based on changing and evolved habitats, which immediately made me think about the re-construction post Katrina. I was going to concentrate on two areas. One being the Lower Ninth and the other was in the area of the 17th St, breach (West End Blvd) but I am keen to go where you may chose too direct me. Originally when I looked up Google maps all I got was post Katrina but pre-clean up. So in essence the maps were almost 5 years out of date. Now you get post clean up but pre-reconstruction. I have spent some time trawling the web but I cant find any Independent images of houses that help me envisage what I saw in 2007.
The official Road Home web site is very comprehensive but tends to show houses jacked up, then placed down on 10ft/20ft (based on a localised flood level calculation) high walls that have small drain through gaps left at the bottom. This is to allow water to flood in and then flood out again. In-effect they have created a new set of rooms below the main house that self drain should there be another breach.Some of these “rooms” have garage doors fitted making it look like the house’s were always built this way. Which of course is not true and it is this adaptation that I want to visulise.
As I said earlier my memory of my Jazz Fest trip in 2007 was of re-constructed housing in the area of the 17th street breach, up on columns approximately 20 feet in the air. There were no walls or partitions between the pillars. You will see similar construction as you drive along the Florida Keys but not in such volume. Again I assume it is left open so as not to impede any adverse tidal movements. The simple theory being that there is considerably less resistance in single narrow pillars compared to the overall surface area of a wall when placed in the path of moving water.
At this point any visualization that you could send me (such as the couple of photos that Stephen sent me of inside one of these “new basements”) would help with my preplanning. In 2007 I stupidly did not take any photos in mid-city, instead like everyone else I shot the heck out of the Lower Ninth. Were as, during my last trip (Jan 2009) to Mumbai I pretty much photo surveyed all of my intended targets. Here you will see complete communities evolve with a large degree of permanency under the freeway bridges and at the base of giant advertising billboards.
My overall objective is not a comparison of these two cities but to create a visual document of how people are forced by circumstance outside their control to evolve a living environment which would not be acceptable at other economic levels of society.
Look at any great city and you can parallel map the financial status of its inhabitants with its geographical contour’s, top down. Putting it another way, when you cant afford to move you adopt or die, as the same is true with peoples who hold a passionate attachment (for historical/tribal reasons) to the location that they chose to inhabit. They evolve solutions to accommodate their need.
Sorry for being so long winded, but New Orleans is a city that I have become passionate about and I believe there is potentially a very strong visual narrative here, which should tell not only the story of its Phoenix like qualities, but the story of the people who are the city and their determination to live where they want by striking a compromise that allows them to live with the inevitable out come of the forces of nature.
After 22 years of visiting the city I have come to know and understand its musical landscape. So I can turn up ad-hock and with the aid of Off Beat and WWOZ, I can productively fill my time. Usually no more than a day or two in advance accepting that there will always be the gigs that are tucked away and aren’t listed.
This trip is different. I need to plan it by building a shooting plan location by location before I set out. Of course accepting any “curved ball” that may get thrown when I am there!
So once again, if you can help in any way, I will truly appreciate it.
Jim Mc Keever
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