Saturday, June 03, 2006

Thoughts on the plane back from New Orleans

Katrina Thoughts 4/28/06

I’m on the plane and I feel a little depressed, not really sad but more depressed, upset, angry in a way … hurt almost. I’m having flashbacks of desolate abandoned New Orleans. Day after day of going to a new neighborhood and continually being surprised by the never-ending devastation, by the utter and complete emptiness that has become the norm. I started having the dreams again last night. My dreams are extremely vivid to the point where when I wake up I feel like I am still in the environment I dream of. But the dreams are that I am sleeping on and in the destruction, the debris of people's lives. It feels almost like I am surrounded by the devastation but more so by death. Not just human death, but something larger that I can’t place my finger on.

When I am in a church or school or home there is a feeling of spirit, the spirits of the people who once inhabited these places. Their souls are still there, surrounding me. Whether they died in the place or not, they are there, through the empty chairs or pictures on the walls I feel them there watching me. It is really spooky and eerie being inside these spaces for so long.

It takes hours to photograph a space; during that time I hear all kinds of noises and honestly they scare the shit out of me. Many times the places are so dark that you cant see in all the areas and when you hear noises all of a sudden coming from there, well it freaks me out. On one occasion I entered a lone school and it was so dark that I couldn’t see a thing to my left or right down the hallways. So I took a digital shot with the flash on to what was there. Nothing really, just a mud-covered hallway. I continued straight ahead where there was light coming in. It was the administration offices I assume. But the ceiling had collapsed and was hanging in the room blocking off half of the room. All of a sudden I hear a noise like someone walking behind it, seriously...I turned around one-time and started to head for the door. As I did I heard the noises again in the next room that I had to walk through to get to the exit, like it was following me. I turned around and saw nothing but quickly continued to the door and knelt through the broken window in the door to get out. As I walked out I heard another noise above me and looked up to see a long piece of metal hanging from the roof making this creepy high pitched noise.
I assumed all the noises were from the winds but there was no way I was going back in there. No way! I then looked down in front of me and noticed a dead fish. It’s weird what you find and where you find it. I don’t like recalling that story; it's very unsettling for me.

Everyday I went to a different neighborhood; I spanned the entire city plus St. Bernard parish as well. I never found the end of the destruction. I kept thinking at some point I’d drive and reach a street where the houses weren’t destroyed, almost like in that movie with Jim Carry where his entire life is filmed & he tries to escape by boat and eventually hits a wall which marks then end, the perimeter, and he can leave that world. But with Katrina, no, that perimeter does not really exist. It is endless. Only the French quarter and the garden district were normal. Every direction you went from there you were surrounded by vast emptiness, abandonment, destruction, water lines above doorways, cars with no owners, and now fully gutted homes. It’s depressing. As I looked at the gutted homes and the water lines and the empty streets day after day, I got the same feeling deep in my stomach. It's hard to describe's that feeling when you first realize or are told really bad news about someone's death or something of that level. Like when you take that deep breath and release that noise of shock and awe as you breath in, like "oh my god!" and then cover your mouth with your hand. Everyday I experienced that multiple times a day. The only break from it was while driving on Route 10 to get from one neighborhood to another.

I want to cry right now when I think about what I saw. When I think about the people I met and the stories they told me. When I think about kids' trophies and metals hanging on walls next to posters of their favorite athlete and then reading on the outside wall of the house that 4 died within. Did he die, did his aspirations die? Was I just in a house where all the inhabitants died from the rising waters and mud of the storm in the Ninth Ward? Is this the house where they recently found 4 dead bodies earlier that week? Yes it was.... yes they did.

A man pulled up to me in the Lower Ninth Ward. It was around 8am and I was photographing a stop sign. I was all alone & was a little wary of his intentions. He stopped his car right in front of me, he asked me if I was taking pictures but said it in a tone that implied his anger, was it anger towards me? He was a hard black man, and spoke in a southern Creole accent, which had me on edge and made me nervous. I didn’t know what was about to happen but what did happen was completely unpredictable. He forcefully said to me "why don’t you go over to THAT corner and take a PICTURE!" take a picture of where my HOUSE used to be!" And then he started to cry. I asked him of this was his first time returning to his neighborhood and he said: "hell nah man, every time I come here I cry!" and he drove off. I stood there saddened and in shock. He was probably around my age too.

I think I feel an urge to photograph the remains of Katrina because I can’t comprehend it. I hope to be able to contain it each day that I venture out to a new part of town, but I can't. It continually feels endless and makes me feel like I need to keep seeing it. Seeing what else was destroyed and how. Feeling the need to interpret it more so than record it.

There is a strange beauty in the destruction and within the emptiness. Even though it makes me sad when I look at it, I do see a sense of beauty. I don’t know why I photograph it. It moves me, I'm in awe of the overwhelming force of the hurricane and more so the water, of the endless scale of the catastrophe, and the personal loss.