Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Family Just Outside NOLA

I just uploaded some pictures from my point and shoot camera that these kids took of each other while I was in New Orleans, visiting outside the parish, beyond the Lower 9th ward. I ended up out this way one day looking for a cup of coffee. Sounds silly, but in the lower 9th there's not much place to buy things and I was looking for coffee to bring to Mac at the Lower 9th ward and ended up driving miles outside the parish in search of a McDonalds. I didn't have high hopes of anything fancy, but the oragne store coffee was just a little too thin and I just wanted real half and half.

This family taught me to shoot a gun, just an air gun that shoots bibi's, actually the wind blew the cans over for me, and spared me the pressure of making the shot.

They were a local family including some old timers who knew the area going way back, and some people from other parts of the country, like a Cherokee from Alabama. the kids were really fascinated with the camera and I love the shots they took of each other and their family. I hope to see them again my next trip. Joey, one of the men close to me in age, shared some of what he wrote in the time of Katrina. He remembered it so vividly, being without a place to stay, drifting. His voice carried so much emotion, I was surprised. I don't know why I am still surprised by listening to men tell their stories. Why am I surprised that they know sadness too. I've grown up hearing how men don't have feelings like women, but when I listen to people like Joey talk, I can hear it, it's in them too, the longing to be rooted to place, to have a family, and a home.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Falling Down Barn Outside Town

 The way this barn bowed out at the sides, like a animal heavy with child, made we wonder if it was getting ready to lie down or fall under the next winter's snow. It seemed, like old people do sometimes, to stand just from stubborn habit. 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

In Memory of John Abel

When we went back to post pictures of John and share them with the people who would most miss him, we could not find Gretchen. We put the pictures where she wanted, next to the cross that was scratched into the concrete.

Teenagers on Fern St.

I delivered a couple of pictures today to people in the post call haze that I've claimed as my time for photography and staying connected to the world outside the hospital.

There were no new pictures of people today.  The teenagers that I came accross today on Fage street, out playing ball while the leaves finish coming down off the trees, didn't want pictures taken. They were curious, but incredulous and completely disinterested in having pictures taken.

So, I turned again to the sky and the light falling on buildings as my subjects. 

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Nancy Had Words For Me

Nancy believes in words. They come to her from God. For me she had a few words. She told me I would make movies. She said I would help people with their costumes. There was a path for me and I was bound to reach it's end.

She asked her friend to give me words too and he said," Peace, Love, Understanding."  Her latest project is the umbrella, which she says is part of god's plan for her. She mentioned that she's missing some teeth, but doesn't want them replaced, not with those ones that all look the same, that aren't crooked. She doesn't need them, she says, not all god's people have teeth, so why should she?

I've seen her on Salina Street before. Today, I was moving slow, on only a handful of sleep, but I caught her and we had fun swapping words and stories.  Someday, I want a costume and to give people words, peace, love, and understanding.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


Sometimes I still get out beyond the edge of the city and look at the landscape. Today, I went to Green Lakes and watches milkweed pods blowing themselves out into the future.

Flying in Memory of...

I met with several of the people who use or have in the past used the 690 underpass that John Abel called home for most of the last eight years. The plan was that I'd record their thoughts and print an obituary if one hadn't yet been written. When I showed up at 5 after the hour, I was surprised to see people waiting for me. Somehow I didn't expect that they would take me up on the offer. At the start we were four and another two came a few minutes later.  

I  met the woman who took him in during the winter months when it was too cold to live outside. They told me stories about birthdays, Christmas, random days. Why he started drinking so heavily after his lover died. How he was getting close to his family and had hopes of quitting drinking. They shared with me how he loved to dance and shook every part of his body when there was music. They shared stories of the many travelers have passed through the space they keep. Some stayed on and learned to "fly," the term used by the homeless for standing out in the traffic with a sign begging for money. One of the women I met told me she was one of only a handful of women who liked to fly. Mostly it's the men.

I was surprised to learn how many of the local businesses they have worked for and have relationships with. The most recent set of couches were donated by the U-Haul moving and storage business a couple of block away after one passer through set fire to most of the old furniture. Another business keeps them in wood to burn in the winter when they sleep up close under the highway because the rising heat from the fires they set gets trapped up there and keeps it manageable warm .

Friday, October 15, 2010

Outside the Orange Store

Most folks outside the orange store are camera shy. This man was an exception. When I asked about his heritage he showed off the tattoos on his back. He had stories to tell about living high and living low. He's living nearby and using this fence as a laundry line. 

Elizabeth Gilbert on Fear and Creative Muse

Here something that makes more sense. Everybody, please keep showing up.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

What you doing is you wasting yo' time...

I wonder if this is true. Yesterday I made someone mad, irate even, when I was out taking pictures. I stopped at a median gathering on Tupelo street, introduced myself, sat down in the dusty grass and told them I was here trying to understand  what makes a community. Then I asked what has become my standard question this trip, "What is a community?"  I got a few answers from the men sitting there on the median. "This here," they said, "This is a piece of Florida." Then, flat out, "You wastin' yo tiam." 

Is that so? 

When I made the mistake of pointing to the 16 oz bag-wrapped can of beer he held in his right hand, suggesting he was having his version of fun, and I was having mine, I got a tongue lashing.

"Don't we all need something to do with our time before we die?" I asked myself.  

What he got out of my finger pointing at his beer can was that I thought photography was an improvement on drinking.  "You making me real mad," he said. "I do have a job, I'm a working man. Where am I supposed to go to enjoy myself?"

I'm not sure where he should go. Maybe right here. Other people want parks, want pools, want schools and businesses to invest in the lower 9th ward so that people do have places to hang out other than the Orange store and the street medians.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

We almost went to Lafayette, LA together

When I went to the French Quarter to deliver pictures to Terry, the waiter at Montrel's Bistro, I met  a French couple who are working on a film of the Cajuns in Lafayette, LA. We had an interesting conversation about community and the differences between the French and American's connection to their history. They love what they do, but neither feels that they has had the benefits that a college education was promised to provide. They live in the French Alps where everyone wants to live; its beautiful; it's expensive; and there's nothing but minimum wage equivalent jobs. They love-hate America. They hated Bush, they are excited about the young people who worked to elect Obama and who are active in the environmental movement.

Here is a link to their website so you can follow their adventure on understanding a community far from their home, but which was influenced by French culture.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Last Day of September

After nearly missing my connection out of D.C., I had the privilege of sitting next to Ignacia Moreno on the flight into NOLA and learning about her work and career in environmental law. I sure hope she and the people she's working with in the Obama administration are able to have a positive impact on the BP disaster.

I was out on the street by noon and started looking for the families I owed pictures to.  I always worry that they will have moved and I'll be left wondering what happened and a pile of undeliverable pictures.

I was sad to see that the lower 9th ward clinic is still closed for clinical services. I talked with Alice, the director, who remains hopeful that the will be able to reopen. While I was there a young mother stopped in looking for someone to examine her kids who'd been sent home with colds and needed to be seen before they could go back.

Mac was where he always is, the lower 9th ward village, this time playing a bang up game of Dominos with an old rival.  I also found Cosmo who said Ronald Lewis was in at the House of Dance and Feathers, so I headed over to Tupelo and talked with the King.  They have both promised to talk to me more about community and the building of it.

I got thirsty and got a snow cone from this road side stand, run by a woman from the area. Her grandson hangs out there with her after school.  The man blowing kisses was sitting apart from a larger crowd that likes to hang out by the corner store up the street. He was friendly enough, but wanted to keep his distance from the crowd.
These two murals are in the neighborhood before you cross over the canal into the lower 9th ward.

The median is a popular place to hangout in New Orleans. Sometimes people are looking for shade, and sometimes for the last dribble of sun at the end of the day. Top picture is St. Claude.
The man on the left is chef at the Gumbo pot and the woman and the man to the right are new in town. So far they like it. Made me laugh that they thought I was a social worker. I should keep of list because people come up with come good theories about why I'm out taking pictures. In this case, a social worker had been around earlier looking for truant kids, so the idea had been planted for them.
This morning I stopped outside the Home Depot and talked to the day workers there. They are from nearly every country in Latin American from Mexico to El Salvador, Guatemala to Nicaragua.  One man was from Israel.   There were locals too, who had plenty to say about the Latinos in their midst. When I asked the locals what is a community and whether the Latinos were part of it, they said no, because they send their money back home and they stick to their own rather than mingling.

The men from Latin American thought I was with the FBI, but eventually lightened up when I reassured them that I wasn't with the feds or immigration, or the city.   They said they knew each other only from here and went their separate ways after work. When I asked if they ever gave up a day's work for someone who'd not had any luck for a while, they said, "Never."  They sometimes share food, but when it comes to getting the work, it's every man for himself, whoever gets on the truck first, gets the money to pay the bills here and send something home to build a house for the family.
They all said they want to go home as soon as possible. The work that was so abundant after Katrina is more sparse and sometimes at the end of the day they get stiffed.