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November 23, 2005

New Orleans Update: Siege Mentality

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Following the nation’s pin-point focus on the tragedy in New Orleans during and immediately after the Katrina disaster, the situation quickly lost the wider attention of the media, the public and the government.  With the onset of the holidays, however, with attention on giving and good will, it seemed appropriate to offer a few visuals in reflection.

The first image is the cover of this week’s TIME.  It offers a badly damaged house and a stove seemingly suspended in air.  What’s the message here?  Could results of the crisis still be crashing down and yet, seem thoroughly static?  Does the image convey a situation that is both calamitous, but also eerily silent?  (I was also wondering how much the story might be cheapened by the gimmick with the stove.)

The second two images were taken by photographer and New Orleans
native, Clayton James Cubitt. Clayton, known professionally as Siege,
had finally scraped together enough money last March to move his mother
out of a shack she had been sharing with nine people and into her own
trailer between Bay St. Louis, Mississippi and Slidell, Louisiana. In a
cruel twist of fate, however, the hurricane left his mother and his
younger brother homeless and destitute.

Although he now lives in Brooklyn, Siege has been shuttling
between New York, New Orleans and North Carolina, where his brother is
staying and going to school. His blog, Operation Eden,
combines a moving set of portraits and photographs with a highly
personal and sweetly unselfconscious account of Katrina’s aftermath;
his mothers struggle; his family history; his connection to home; and a
sense of dislocation that TIME could only hope to rig up.

in choosing out a couple images, these two couldn’t be more
different. The beach scene is noteworthy because it was taken the day
before the hurricane. Here is Siege’s account:

We had gotten to Seaside Heights the night before, to chill out and
fuck off. My mom called me that morning, at dawn, to tell me she was
evacuating. When her voice broke I knew it was bad. But what could we
do that day? I took pictures of my friends relaxing, having fun, but my
mind was already in the Gulf. These pictures are strange to me. Like
somebody else took them. Sleepwalking. Like the memory of the fun
didn’t have enough time to set before Katrina blew it away.

The photo is powerful in any number of ways. It’s strange how, just
before Katrina arrives, Siege is photographing the ocean (albeit, in
New Jersey). The sky and the dark edges give a sense of foreboding. It
also seems to reflect on fate. How many of us carry around mental
snapshots of that last innocent thing we did before something happened
to utterly change our lives?

The last image is from a series of portraits which Siege
updates irregularly. These photos perceptively capture the dignity,
strength and, primarily, pride of place, in people on the Gulf Coast.
It’s one thing for the country to lose track of this crisis due to the
near-hopeless politics involved. It’s a completely different matter,
however, when one encounters the faces and spirit of those who endure.
Connie Crapeau was the owner of the Turtle Landing in Pearlington. It
was the only restaurant in the town where Siege’s mother was living,
and it didn’t survive the storm.

When I look at Connie, it seems a shame that the TIME cover has no one on it.

Operation Eden blog.

Operation Eden image gallery.

Operation Eden contribution page.

(images: Clayton James Cubitt, 2005.  Operation Eden.  Used by permission.)

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