For the past four years (2006 – 2010) Dave Anderson has been documenting the reconstruction of a single New Orleans block in the devastating wake of Hurricane Katrina. Anderson’s new monograph One Block: A New Orleans Neighborhood Rebuilds (Aperture) and an exhibition at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans coincide with the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina to offer a unique view of the ongoing physical and psychological recovery.
In both the book and the exhibition the images are arranged in a non-linear fashion, creating what Anderson terms a “psychological landscape.” Images of the residents rebuilding are seen alongside contemplative portraits, moments of rest, gutted and renovated interiors, children playing amidst the work, and still lives of things in between states of use and destruction. Ultimately, it is the details that bear the long traces of the last five years. Maxine’s furrowed brow and tired eyes, the numerous t-shirts marked with sweat and dirt from the days work, an arm dusted white with dry-wall, the stubborn beauty of three exposed studs illuminated by the setting Louisiana sun.
At the show’s opening, Anderson spoke briefly to the crowd. Anderson remembered hearing that a documentary photographer was supposed to be like a fly on the wall, simply and purely observing his surroundings. This position, he remarked, was the opposite of his approach; he would knock on doors, return later to knock again, gain the trust and friendship of his subjects. More than once, he admitted, he accidentally got in their way. Many of the residents were on hand for the opening, and as they’d pass their image on the wall the impact of the work grew even more palpable. Several also spoke, praising the work, and expressing the importance and catharsis of finding beauty in such a difficult time.
The following Saturday, a block party, co-hosted by Aperture, The Oxford American, and Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans was held for the residents. Despite rain, music, food, and dancing prevailed. Eventually, the weather ceded to the occasion with a grand symbolic gesture; late in the afternoon, the sun broke through and cast a rainbow over the Lower Ninth Ward.
It is through Anderson’s commitment and relationship with the residents that One Block yields an intimate understanding of not only the magnitude of Katrina’s impact but of the resilience of the people of New Orleans.