by L.A. Davenport
An apparently straightforward work trip to New Orleans, Louisiana, in 2010 turned into a journey both of discovery and into the horrors of Hurricane Katrina, which had devastated the city five years before.
In 2010, I was sent to New Orleans, Louisiana, to visit a conference. It was my first time in the US, and I was utterly fascinated by everything I saw. I quickly decided that any work should take a backseat to exploring the city as much as I could.
I was amazed by the cars, the buildings, the street layouts, the people; everything that I had seen in a thousand movies and TV shows but had never had a chance to encounter in real life. It caused a strange sense of dislocation, but I threw myself into the experience.
The sheer carefree audaciousness of the US was one of the most eye-catching aspects, and I loved the cheerily informal way people presented themselves and their wares.
One incredible trip was to the Abita Mystery House, a roadside attraction in Abita Springs near New Orleans. In the words of artist/creator John Preble, it is "a folk art environment with 1000s of found objects, and home made inventions," which is something of an understatement.
The exhibits include a series of dioramas, including this one of Pinky's What All Store, part of the big River Road scene.
However, I was shocked on my trip to New Orleans by the ever-present consequences of Hurricane Katrina, the devastating storm that had hit the city a full five years before.
Katrina remained an indelible stain on the city, and the horrors that the place and its people had suffered were inescapable. (See the white markings on the lefthand house, which record what the emergency services found when they checked it in the days following the storm.)
The most moving and devastating thing I saw, however, was Holt Cemetery. Established in 1879, this is, in the words of Ryan Whirty on NOLA.com, "a potter's field, where the destitute — the overwhelming majority of whom are black — are given the best farewell possible by their struggling families or, many times, by city or hospital workers, who have interred thousands upon thousands there."
Holt Cemetery was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina and even by 2010, this largely below-ground place of internment (unusual for New Orleans), remained in a parlous state.
We visited it in the gloaming, and I was left with impression of walking among the living dead, whose breath sighed with the wind and whose spirits trailed after us as we passed.
In the dying light of evening, and with a wholly unsuitable film in my camera, I wanted to capture one last image of the neglect shown towards the people who had built what, to the rest of the world, was the image of New Orleans.
© L.A. Davenport 2017-2024.
NOLA 2010 | Pushing the Wave