In the summer of 2005 I was working full swing on a project that would take me to most of the major cities around the country for the next 6 years. While at my home base that summer, the news broke about Hurricane Katrina and I was glued to the TV a week before it hit. I observed this event from a distance and began feeling helpless and angry. I was in the middle of this photography assignment and all I wanted to do was go to New Orleans and give a hand. I let go of the possibility of going there and stayed focused on my project. However, there was an embedded, yet silent yearning to help those people who had lost so much.
Two years after Katrina my project was taking me to Nashville, much closer to New Orleans than any place else we went. I had an “aha” moment—I thought that Nashville would be close enough for me to drive down and find a way to help out when I got there. So it was…
After a week in New Orleans I had discovered an amazing cultural compendium filled with music, food, friendships, and more music and more food and… and… as you can imagine I fell in love with the place and its residents (at least the few who had moved back by then).
One highlight from the trip was the work I did with Tipitina’s Foundation on the day they celebrated the homecoming of one of the more well-known residents affected by the storm. I documented the return of Fats Domino to his residence, which he hadn’t seen since he left in 2005. This was such a big deal because Fats had a rule that he would not leave home ever again, and when Fats makes a rule everybody abides, especially him.
I didn't know what to expect, as his place was only about 50% restored. I was just going along with the ride as a volunteer photographer. Fats arrived with an entourage of about 35 people, and he was greeted by about 200 local kids who had yet to move back into the neighborhood. A few of us entered the house with him. It was unbelievably emotional. We watched tears roll down his cheeks and ours as he gazed at his bedroom and told us about his favorite tie that was left behind—still there in the closet.
We made our way to the second house/studio on the property that was ready for use. Inside there was a cooler filled with cold beer, evidence that there would be no electricity for some time. Outside on the porch, all together we toasted to the new beginning post Katrina. I listened and appreciated the moment so fully. Fats spoke few words to us, but everything he did say was a response in rhythm. It was so clear every ounce of his being was threaded with the vibrations of what he loved… music. What an honor to clink bottles with him!
One thing I learned about NOLA culture is that people unite there though gathering on their front porch. The porch is a place for parents to watch the kids play in the yard. A place to burn some coals and savor some delicious Bar-B-Que. A place to keep it real, feel united and loved.
In this project I stepped out of my studio onto the front porch of humanity, which I do from time to time. I invite you to step out onto your porch and see what’s going on. If you don’t have one, you can come visit mine.
The image below won several awards and was exhibited around the world. It’s one of my favorites. Please feel free to leave a comment as well.