The Historic New Orleans Collection marked the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina with the release of the book and exhibition, The Katrina Decade: Images of an Altered City. Traveling to the Whatcom Museum, courtesy of The Historic New Orleans Collection, this photo exhibition features the haunting black-and-white images of New Orleans-based photographer David G. Spielman. His photographs chronicle the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina and the arrested processes of rebuilding and recovery that persist in many neighborhoods today. The exhibition is on view Jan. 14 through May 14, 2017 at the Whatcom Museum’s Lightcatcher building in Bellingham, WA.
Spielman, a fine-art photographer, freelance photojournalist and New Orleans resident, has spent the last decade capturing subtle, gradual changes happening in less-documented areas of the city affected by the storm, like the West Bank, Central City and Mid-City. Inspired by the traditions of photographers like Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, and Gordon Parks, who captured the changing face of America during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl in stark, simple images, Spielman’s contemplative look at the city reveals the complicated task of recovering from a major disaster.
The resulting photographs beg for careful consideration: where one initially sees stasis, a longer look reveals movement and hints of rebirth, as well as evocative traces of human activity. New Orleans’s subtropical climate makes for a city in perpetual struggle against nature’s attempts to reclaim the landscape—vines have begun to subsume structures in some of the photographs, but evidence of maintenance and new construction often inches its way into the background or the margin. From these images emerge stories of neglect, renewal and perseverance within New Orleans’s altered cityscape.
“Photography is the great educator,” Spielman said. “It puts a face on war, poverty and disasters. My most important task as a photographer is to render the most truthful image of each and every situation I find, because years from now, people want to see what it was really like.”
Although the photographs in this exhibition document a part of America that is far from the Pacific Northwest, it is a reminder that we are all affected by natural disasters. Earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanos are a concern to Northwest communities, especially along the coastal regions. The Whatcom Museum hopes that this exhibition will inspire visitors to consider the importance of disaster preparedness in our own region.
This exhibition accompanies the book, “The Katrina Decade: Images of an Altered City,” which contains 138 black-and-white photographs, along with essays by Spielman, exhibition curator John H. Lawrence, and journalist and preservationist Jack Davis. The book retails for $39.95 and is available for purchase at the Museum Store.
About the photographer: Assignments have taken David G. Spielman to six continents, where he has photographed presidents and other world leaders. “The Katrina Decade” is his fourth published collection, following “Southern Writers” (1997), “Katrinaville Chronicles: Images and Observations from a New Orleans Photographer” (2007) and “When Not Performing: New Orleans Musicians” (2012). He has called New Orleans home for more than 40 years.
About The Historic New Orleans Collection:Founded in 1966, The Historic New Orleans Collection is a museum, research center and publisher dedicated to the study and preservation of the history and culture of New Orleans and the Gulf South. For more information, visit www.hnoc.org.
About the Whatcom Museum: The Whatcom Museum offers a variety of exhibitions, programs, tours, and activities about art, nature, and Northwest history for all ages. Its multi-building campus is located in the heart of Bellingham’s downtown art district. “The Katrina Decade: Images of an Altered City” will be on exhibition Jan. 14 – May 14, 2017 in the Lightcatcher building, 250 Flora St., Bellingham, WA 98225. The Lightcatcher is open Wednesdays – Sundays, Noon – 5 PM. For more information about the exhibition and admission visit www.whatcommuseum.org.