Hurricane Katrina is the largest disaster to have ever hit the United States. We have all seen the blitz of media coverage, but the details on how exactly it has affected the photography community are just surfacing.
IMPACT ON AREA MUSEUMS
The Times-Picayune's web site reported that the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) survived Katrina and the floods without significant damage. But when Federal Emergency Management Agency representatives finally arrived in the area Wednesday (August 31), NOMA employees who were staying inside the museum were faced with a major problem. FEMA wanted them to move to a safer location, but there was still no way to secure the artwork inside.
According to the paper's reporters, "six security and maintenance employees remained on duty during the hurricane and were joined by 30 evacuees, including the families of some employees. Harold Lyons, a security console operator who stayed on at the museum, said FEMA representatives were the first outsiders to show up at the museum in days. They immediately tried to persuade staffers to leave the building. That would have left no one to protect the museum’s contents and no one inside the museum had the authority to give that order, Lyons said as he inspected the grounds."
The museum itself was apparently undamaged by the hurricane, and floodwaters had not reached the building. The museum’s generators were still functioning, providing some air conditioning to preserve its priceless art collection, which includes an important collection of photography, one of the best in the South.
It was reported that museum workers had taken down some pieces in the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden before the storm, but a modernist tower sculpture by Kenneth Snelson was destroyed in the lagoon. Ironically Snelson also had another of his tower-sculptures destroyed in the 9/11 disaster.
The American Association of Museums website further reported on a phone call with John Bullard, the director of the New Orleans Museum of Art, who had been on vacation when the storm hit. According to that information, the museum has decided to bring in a larger generator for climate control instead of moving the collection. There has been no structural damage to the building, and Bullard happily reported no water in the basement.
Kacey Hill, public information director for the Louisiana State Museum in New Orleans issued a statement that early reports indicate that the Louisiana State Museum's nine historic French Quarter properties have sustained varying degrees of modest to severe damage as a result of Hurricane Katrina. Curatorial staff has conducted a preliminary survey of both facilities and collections for immediate stabilization purposes. Continuing assessment of conditions is underway, but it is too soon to fully realize the extent of the site repairs and collection treatment needed.
The Clarion-Ledger reported that the covering over a skylight that was to be repaired blew off at the Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson, MS. Director Betsy Bradley said that as a result leaks are recurring and ceiling tiles are down in the atrium area. The art was removed prior to the storm and was not damaged. Bradley said the museum would re-open very soon.
Other smaller Gulf Coast museums and institutions suffered water and wind damage that will particularly impact historical archives in some instances.
A new charity has been created and papers filed by a group of photo industry companies called appropriately P.H.O.T.O. Over 40 companies have already pledged their support. For more information, try this link: http://www.photographyblog.com/index.php/weblog/comments/hurricane_katrina_photo_relief_fund/ . As I understand it, commercial photographers affected can apply for funds and equipment.
Photo District News (PDN)'s website has several articles about New Orleans photographers and their plight, including that of noted New Orleans photographer Herman Leonard and his family.
FIRST-HAND REPORT BY GALLERY OWNER
One photography dealer and AIPAD member, Joshua Mann Pailet (http://www.agallery.com ), was caught in the New Orleans aftermath of Katrina and he tells his story below. Pailet also reflects the anger, the pride and the openhearted qualities of much of the storm's victims and the nation as a whole. His company, A Gallery for Fine Photography, is located in the French Quarter of New Orleans. He was part of the group that did not initially heed the warnings for evacuation.
At first we received emails from Josh, passed on by other members of AIPAD to the larger community of dealers. His first-hand account is reported below, but, as Josh himself notes, "It only applies to this tiny historic piece of land I was blessed to be in at the moment this storm arrived. I am keenly aware that other neighborhoods in New Orleans and all around the Gulf Coast experienced a nightmare of biblical proportions that seems to grow daily. I am the luckiest man in New Orleans and this planet."
Pailet finally left New Orleans on last Thursday night, four days after the levees broke. Below are his immediate reflections after finally fleeing the city and his reflections a few days later.
"Friday, September 2, 2005: Just got out last night. I could have stayed; my supplies would have lasted for seven more days. But, the fires have started.
"The reports of looting downtown are exaggerated. Yes, they broke into the grocery stores, drugstores, gas stations, for food, water, diapers, milk etc. Of course all the rest got stolen as well. Canal Street had a few hours of thugs doing sports shops, but all other shops and the entire French Quarter is safe and untouched. The storm did glass and roof damage and uprooted trees. The Uptown area just needs to be swept. Actually it looks less dirty than a typical Mardi Gras day.
"I was never threatened. Ninety-nine point nine per cent of our people are heroic, stoic and human beings of great quality. The flood did not get into the French Quarter or into the area along the river to Audubon Park. I stayed and helped, and photographed and bicycled these areas every day. No shooters--some idiots--but everyone doing the best to get along and survive. In other flooded areas, it is very desperate and there are some battles going on, but very isolated.
"From Monday to late yesterday there were no military, Red Cross, FEMA, or anyone with supplies downtown. Even the New Orleans Police and Fire Departments were largely absent. I stayed in the Quarter at A Gallery for Fine Photography. The building and contents are presently fine. I will be going back soon to help the other people.
"The amazing people of New Orleans will survive and rebuild. The media stayed on Canal Street and are missing the real story. Unfortunately, the "looting" story is all they had downtown, and its repetitious playing of that footage has setback recovery. It falsely scared off the rescuers, I guess. There were too many rumors reported without eyewitness verification. It is a bad business needs to change. Please spread the word.
"Bush and his people have been bad to us. Every hour matters to the remaining people. The surrounding region is overwhelmed with recovery. Baton Rouge has 200,000 people to help. LSU is a triage center. EVERYONE is pitching in. The entire situation is complex and difficult for everyone. Many shortages, gasoline especially.
"By the way, since early Tuesday, access into New Orleans via the downtown Miss. River Bridge has been clear to Baton Rouge. Everyone else got in that way, why not the military? Four hours away by car is Fort Polk, one of the largest bases around. Bring the boys home, especially the National Guard.
"New Orleans needs your love and positive thoughts. Email and spread the word. Contact your leadership in Washington and keep the pressure on. Especially today and tomorrow (Editor's note: Thursday and Friday of last week). Remember that these people are the heart and soul of the New Orleans everyone loves."
After Pailet got out to an area (Baton Rouge) where he could reflect a bit more, he sent me this follow-up:
"New Orleans is my home and birthplace. I remained in downtown New Orleans during the difficult first five days. In the French Quarter, downtown, and along the Mississippi River, I witnessed the survivors of this powerful storm struggle to maintain dignity and life.
"Along this narrow unique corridor of the original city boundaries, there was no flooding. All around us, the waters rose, and the struggle roared louder than the hurricane winds of that historic storm.
"During this time, communication was non-existent. Rumors ruled the street. The outlaws were bad, but a tiny percentage. The community worked together to have the stamina to remain calm and alive.
"NO water or food was delivered into these historic quarters until late Friday afternoon. NO evidence was seen of Authority or control.
"We were not destroyed through looting or shooting. In fact, I witnessed a far more remarkable scene than TV or radio was able to report.
"The other less famous, but equally important neighborhoods of this remarkable city were deluged with water, fear, anger, bullies and HEROES. Our policeman, fireman and individual citizens used their wits and struggled to rescue many thousands of stranded friends and families while their own lives had been shattered.
"The historic French Quarter and Riverfront community up St. Charles Avenue and along the Mississippi River survived intact and can be ready for your return soon after the electricity and running water is restored.
"We are eager to see the misery calmed and life and vitality restored. Despite the visual images you are seeing, you will be surprised in the upcoming weeks. As we unite, together we can move forward to bring us together again.
"The daily challenges are being addressed in a manner that requires everyone to remain flexible, cooperative, resourceful, inventive and respectful. ALL displaced CITIZENS must have the opportunity to return to their original neighborhoods. These unique neighborhoods must be rebuilt.
"The complex and multi-dimensional problems of this event are going to be solved, step-by-step, day-by-day, brick by brick. The people, who are the heart and soul of this great city, will be back. It is essential to bring ALL home to let the magic that you love about New Orleans blossom in the spring. The great gumbo of New Orleans requires that ALL our friends and families have a chance to return to their roots. The unique qualities that we love will shine if we continue to act with true dignity and bring back to EVERY neighborhood--the artists, cooks, workers, musicians, professionals, carpenters, and more. This is truth for New Orleans and every community that surrounds it for miles and miles and miles.
"Tonight, we are scattered and battered. Each day, the outpouring of concern has kept us going forward. We will clean it up and want everyone back to their neighborhoods and homes. For some of us, this will be soon. For the vast majority, it will be much longer.
We need your help, and the fantastic response from around the world and especially across the USA must continue. The love for New Orleans is evident. We sincerely thank you. We know the stress is spreading and touching all of you.
"Everyone in the entire region has been affected. I am presently in Baton Rouge organizing and helping people find a place to live, work and send their children to schools. Baton Rouge has taken in over 350,000 people and nearly doubled in size. Some of us are in hotels, friends' homes, strangers' homes, shelters, churches, temples, arenas, gymnasiums, vehicles, tents and every available resource you can imagine.
"The generosity and kindness of the great people of Baton Rouge, Houston, and every town and state for hundreds and even thousands of miles is remarkable to witness. They are nurturing my fellow citizens of New Orleans, Mississippi and Alabama. It will continue.
"Many of you have asked to help. We need your resources and immediate attention to a multitude of tasks.
"We must continue rescuing, protecting, housing and restoring health all at once. This test and challenge will require stamina and willpower, infrastructure, money, and planning. Timing is truly critical. Everywhere I look, the efforts and overtime are phenomenal. Imagine!
"My fellow survivors continue to inspire others. No doubt major mistakes have been made. This can be debated at a later date. I ask all of you to continue focusing on New Orleans and the entire Gulf Coast area and pushing this effort forward. Each of you has a role to play as this situation stabilizes.
"Tonight, I feel that the children need our most immediate attention. In Baton Rouge alone, there are over 35,000 new children of kindergarten to high school age who are in dire need of stability and education. This story is repeated in numerous communities all over Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Arizona, New Mexico and many more. Tomorrow should be a school day for these beautiful children. We must begin to provide and prepare them for the future now!
"Schools, teachers, personnel, and supplies need to come together quickly. An Education Relief Task Force is organizing this effort. I strongly urge you to continue supporting ALL charitable efforts with your donations.
"I believe that the Baton Rouge Area Foundation ( http://www.braf.org ) is the proper place to direct your financial contributions at this very moment. The educational crisis is critical. The New Orleans School System is wiped out and bankrupt.
"As you think about this, if we can get our children on a positive track, then parents will begin to rest easier and thus able to solve all the problems we need to address. From this will spring forth all the other great projects needed.
"At times this emotional roller coaster we are all on causes us to briefly stop. It is paramount that we work together diligently for a very long time to achieve this goal for our children. It can and must be done. With this will follow the jobs and the dignity we all need to rebuild.
"Bring your energy, ideas, and donations NOW.
"Throughout all of this, I have heard my mother's words echo: 'Pick up the pieces and get on with it.'
"Thank you for your prayers, positive thoughts, and energy. You keep me, and many others, moving forward on this path to recovery. Every moment of everyday we encounter a changing reality."
WHERE TO DONATE
Pailet recommends the following two websites for your donations. Go to:
http://www.braf.org or http://www.habitat.org .
I would add these sites to your list of organizations helping with Katrina storm victims for your possible donations: http://katrina.salvationarmy.org/USNSAHome.htm , http://www.americares.org/ , http://www.brfoodbank.org/index.shtml , and http://www.charitynavigator.org/ (this last website for ratings and listings of charities helping out with Katrina's victims). The three I have mentioned are all very highly rated and very efficient with their money (even more than the Red Cross).
Be aware that there are already unscrupulous scam artists trying to take advantage of this tragic situation. Do NOT respond to email or phone solicitations of donations. Most reputable charities do not use these methods. Often these scams send you to a look-alike site for a major charity. The best way is to go directly to an organization's website to make your donation or call by phone.
Besides the stories above there are many other galleries, photographers and museums affected by the storm and flooding. We hope to bring you more updates in the next few newsletters. We encourage others in the affected areas, who are in the photography arts, to contact us with their details at firstname.lastname@example.org .