In August the images and tales of Hurricane Katrina came rushing back into the public eye as New Orleans and the nation commemorated the 10th anniversary of the federal levee failures. Media outlets searched for new angles on the tragedy and fresh insights on the last decade in the Crescent City. Was the city somehow “better” than its pre-2005 incarnation? Had New Orleans and the nation learned any lessons since the storm? Who deserved credit for the recovery?
Obscured in much of the analysis: the daily struggles of families to cope with the aftermath of a storm that flooded 80 percent of the city and claimed 1,800 lives. In a world turned upside down, New Orleanians fought to maintain family bonds and cultural practices. Though hard to quantify in a newspaper account, that perseverance was often best captured by Louisiana artists. Add to that roster photographer L. Kasimu Harris, whose exhibition, “The 10-Year Journey: Reflections of Family, Identity and New Orleans,” closes at the George and Leah McKenna Museum of African American Art on November 14.
“This is how I’ve dealt with rage, depression, underemployment, unrequited love,” Harris says of the photographs. “This is how I documented my family, explored my city and preserved its culture.” The exhibit conveys these intentions with an intimacy and quietude sometimes missing in the rush to define New Orleans since the storm. We stand next to Harris as he comforts a cousin, cares for his mother, drifts through empty houses. He considers the good sportsmanship of a high school softball team against a backdrop of demolished housing projects, and pauses for the prayers of students facing a standardized test.
These are photos that will feel familiar to anyone who lived through this maddening, mystifying period. If each of us has a “Katrina story,” Harris reminds us of the details, the moments when all seemed lost or, alternately, when normal appeared to return. Below are his reflections on four photos.
The McKenna Museum is located at 2003 Carondelet Street in New Orleans. Visit http://www.themckennamuseum.com for more information.