Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Lower 9th Ward, New Orleans, LA - 12th August

Like Detroit, New Orleans was always a natural place to go for abandonment. Almost all of the abandonment that I saw whilst there was directly, or indirectly as a result of Hurricane Katrina which hit New Orleans in 2005. The City was devastated. Nearly every levee in the New Orleans city area was breached by Katrina's storm resulting in monumental floods which eventually submerged 80% of the city. Not surprisingly most of the breaches affected the poorer areas far more than the more affluent parts of New Orleans which are located on higher grounds above sea-level. One of the most devastated areas was the Lower 9th Ward which was decimated by the breach of the Industrial Canal. The Lower 9th sits below the water mark of the canal and in addition to breaches by flooding an industrial barge was swept through the flood wall of the canal draining millions of gallons of the canal into the Lower 9th. The result is impossible to imagine - but that most of the 1,600+ deaths occurred in the Lower 9th begins to allow you to imagine the consequences.

I walked from the edge of the French Quarter through the Upper 9th Ward towards the Claiborne Av. bridge. I'd been advised to pay the $1.25 to get the bus literally from the west to the east side of the bridge as the pedestrian footpath over the industrial canal, being surrounded on all sides by wire meshing, is a hot-spot for muggings.

I arrived into the Lower 9th and wandered around for a good few hours. Abandonment was everywhere. 30% of the population who were evacuated from their homes in 2005 have yet to return, and of those who did many have still yet to rebuild their shattered lives.

The first thing that you notice when walking through the harder-hit parts of New Orleans are the ominous looking spray-painted crosses that adorn the walls of every other house or-so, reminiscent of a the marks on houses during times of plague. A local man walking his dog explained their significance.

9.6/NE/0/TX1

The presence of the cross and numbers/letters combination is to show that the particular property has in fact been searched by rescue teams.

The north quadrant, with '9.6' denotes the particular house was searched by rescue teams on the 6th of September; the west quadrant's 'TX1' signifies the search group which in fact searched the premises - in this case it was the first (1) search group from Texas (TX); the south quadrant is by far the most chilling, with its number representing the number of dead found inside; finally the east-quadrant gives any other relevant information, such as whether animals were found inside, etc. - here 'NE' declares there is to be 'No Entry'.

After this explanation my eye was instantly drawn to the south quadrant, the death toll, and whilst many bore the figure 0 the occasional one hauntingly declared one, two, and even three deaths.

Incomplete data: 9.6/-/-/TX1

9.10/0/0/DEA - 10/6 - FW

The Lower 9th was a bizarre place to walk around - a patchwork of normality and the surreal. Abandoned houses lay strewn all over, interspersed between re-built houses and re-built lives. No pattern was discernible, and it was difficult to know whether the rule of the area was abandonment with habitation being the exception or the other way around.

'Scum'/'Tear Down Shit' 

House Poetry: 'No Dumping / Asshole / Scum'

Some houses, truly abandoned, lay open for anyone who dared to venture inside. I was always cautious of entering properties here, as these houses were once people's homes - people's livelihoods - and that required respect.

Previously a home #1

Previously a home #2

When in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art I saw Richard Misrach's famous 'Destroy this Memory' on exhibition which chronicles the aftermath of Katrina through the graffiti its inhabitants sprayed on their property. Albert Mobilo said this of Misrach's work:

The photos - which are entirely devoid of people - don't just provide the 
now-familiar account of ruined homes and strewn debris, but 
also give pungent, poetic voice to the absent inhabitants.

My own contribution to this pungent, poetic voice of the absent inhabitants is, however, far more modest in nature.









I must only have walked around a half square mile of the Lower 9th Ward which should hopefully convey the scale of abandonment that to this day exists as a kind of monument to Katrina. The fact almost all of the properties I photographed were residential made the small journey a moving experience.


 No one at home: front elevation


No one at home: side elevation





Katrina not only ruined homes, but also businesses - Bobwater's Cafe didn't seem to have fared well.

 Eat Eat Relax #1

 Eat Eat Relax #2



I left the Lower 9th having only scratched the surface of the scale of abandonment that exists, still nearly 7 years on, after Katrina. Katrina is still raw in the memories and lives of all those who live in New Orleans, and the swathes of abandonment that it left behind is a testament to this. Only days before I arrived into New Orleans a US Federal Jury finally convicted four NOPD police officers for the unlawful killings of two unarmed men on the Danziger Bridge, finally delivering a lame form of justice to their families 7 years after their deaths. And Katrina continues to live on in the US Court system, as citizens and interest groups continue to pursue those responsible for the gross mismanagement and maintenance of the levee system.

I end with the words of graffiti on the fence that seems to sum up so much of New Orleans to this day: Katrina Rules.

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