People Get Ready

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Katrina photos: Bayou St. John rescue

Posted by schroeder915 on November 23, 2005

A clever display of public art appeared on Bayou St. John this past weekend. Taking his cue from the proliferation of signs on intersection neutral grounds, hawking anything from house-gutting services, to business openings, to selling more signs, photographer Jonathan Traviesa planted signs displaying photographs which were themselves taken in the same spots where Traviesa shot the photos of the rescue effort in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

I think everyone was astonished to stand in the same place where those photographs were taken, and to consider the amount of water that covered this familiar neighborhood. The city was turned, quite literally, into a lake.

As one drives around town, it’s impossible not to follow the dirty line of residue, like a bathtub ring (I think Chris Rose conjured that metaphor), that is found on every standing object, and to consider the fact that your car would be completely submerged were the water still there. Jonathan’s photos provided another dimension in which to help comprehend the completely incomprehensible.

A note on these photos (my photos of Jonathan’s photos) — it wasn’t immediately apparent to me why the signs were positioned as they were. Later when I realized that the same objects were visible in the photos as one could see line of sight in the distance, I started taking pictures far enough away to bring in the background. I’m sorry now that I didn’t do that for all the pictures. I returned the next day to re-take some of the shots, but, sadly, most of the pictures were gone. Once again, leave them any opportunity, and the ignorant, selfish masses will take whatever they can. That’s one of the unfortunate lessons of Hurricane Katrina.

However ephemeral the exhibit, thank you Jonathan for sharing your photos. I saw a lot of people drive by, return, park, and walk the path along the bayou to contemplate in the photos what had occurred there just weeks before. You created a remarkable civic experience.

2/07/2006 update: I should have done this sooner, but now that I’m thinking about it, there’s more information about this civic art exhibition in a NY Times article (posted by data stream), and the Times-Picayune printed an article in which Traviesa explained the exhibit:

Jonathan Traviesa, a photographer, rode out the hurricane in Mid-City and then traveled around in an inner tube, documenting the rescue of people on a strip of land near Bayou St. John. Mr. Traviesa had the photographs printed on corrugated plastic and stuck into the ground on metal tines, a comment on the pastures of signs that have sprung up offering tree trimming, house gutting and other cleanup services.

In mid-November, the photographs were placed in the spots where they had been taken, providing a time-travel perspective that was poignant but also transitory. By late November, the photographs appeared to have been removed, as if they were just another bit of storm debris.

“I thought having the work in the environment communicated something peaceful and reverent in tribute to the people of the neighborhood,” Mr. Traviesa said from New York. “But I knew the photographs could get confiscated, stolen or blown over. It was meant to be a temporary gift.”

Doug MacCash of the Times-Picayune later recognized Traviesa’s exhibit as the best art exhibit of 2005.

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4 Responses to “Katrina photos: Bayou St. John rescue”

  1. Michael said

    What a magnificent set of photographs. Too bad folks swiped some of them.

    Changing subject just a bit–the PBS website has links to NOVA and Frontline that are worth a look. The shows last night were good–hopefully they shined as much of a spotlight as they could.

  2. Schroeder said

    Thanks Michael. I’m checking it out now.

  3. Incredible… really… Being a photographe myself, and trying to understand the impact of this catastrophe, this really was quite an amazing take on it. It IS too bad that people took the photos, but I can only hope that they were people who once lived in those places and wanted them as a rememberance of their homes. In any case, kudos to you my friend… for helping the world to understand the impact of this. And for bringing some light to an otherwise dark time. Great work and great message.

  4. […] Update: Thanks to Courtney Egan for revealing that this is a project of Art in Action! This specific piece is Site #6, “O Water!” by Jonathan Traviesa, the same guy who put photos on Bayou St. John a year ago. You can read about the installation or, if you’re in New Orleans, you can go down to Jeff Davis and D’Hemecourt and see it yourself. It was still there this morning. […]

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