Posts Tagged ‘photojournalism’

NOLA: Day eight addition

2010/06/25

This post isn’t related to the oil spill yet but when it is, it’s going to be a sad day.
After wandering around the docks, looking for signs of oil and signs of people who work in the fishing industry, we went to the Barataria Preserve nearby. The preserve is really amazing. I’d never seen a swamp like that before and was awestruck by the place. There is so much life, in every nook and cranny of this little area of the swamp. It’s a fine example of much of the Gulf coast which will most likely be affected by the oil.
Here are a few photos I took while there.

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NOLA: Day eight. Lafitte.

2010/06/24

Today Chris and I went south to Lafitte, La. which is the last car-accessible populated area along the bayou before one reaches Barataria Bay, north of Grand Isle.

This southern part of the state is still attempting to recover from Hurricane Katrina. Docks, buildings, vehicles and even boats are frozen in a post-Katrina state where their owners just gave up on the attempt to recover. The BP oil spill is yet another blow to the region and who knows how much recovery we’ll see completed five years from now.

Right now, Lafitte is a bit like a ghost town if you ask me. Almost every dock had shrimp and fishing boats tied up. Nothing that may seem out of the ordinary to a tourist or an out-of-towner, but the community lives on commercial fishing. The boats tied up are a sign of trouble in the industry. On a normal day, they would all be out fishing and making money.

The town seemed almost abandoned aside from workers at convenience stores and gas stations. Many locals have taken up employment working with clean-up crews and though they are out during the day, they aren’t on their boats. The boat rental businesses looked completely closed up. It would have probably been easier to buy a boat today than attempt to rent one. And there were plenty for sale.

After driving around we found one of the sub-contracted companies working for BP doing cleanup. In a parking lot beside the water there was a pontoon boat that had been hauled out of the water on a trailer. The water line was stained with thick tar the whole way around the boat. This is one of those craft that has a pump on it with operators sucking tar off the surface of the water out in the bay. Beside the boat was a pair of trailers loaded down with small, yellow oil booms.

These are segmented in five-foot sections to be able to make tighter curves inside the narrow inlets and hug the edges of the bayou. Although the oil itself hadn’t begun to wash up in Lafitte with the tide or wind, it was surely being carried in very small amounts on the hulls of boats coming and going to aid in oil removal. They were preparing for its arrival with the booms staged at the water’s edge.

NOLA, day three. Grand Isle.

2010/06/20

Before this journey began, I had contacted my friend and old coworker Dana, whom I worked with at Naval Meteorological and Oceanographic Facility, Whidbey Island, Wa. It had been at least six years since I’d spoken with him in person, the last time was before I deployed to Iraq in 2004. Dana is still in the Navy and works at a Meteorological Center not too far from New Orleans. We arranged to have lunch today and he showed up a bit early, so we got coffee and a late breakfast. We decided that we’d visit Grand Isle for a few hours in hopes that we’d beat the afternoon thunderstorms and possibly catch some cleanup operations happening.

We drove right through a heavy downpour and the rain had us moving just a few miles per hour for a while. Once we came out of it, the sky had shut off the rain like from a faucet. After about 2 hours in the car, we reached Grand Isle and there are signs of cleanup everywhere. Almost subtle signs. More obvious than in New Orleans, but there was very little activity. The area was buzzing a bit with movement, but we couldn’t see it. National Guard vehicles were posted up at beach houses up and down Hwy 1. Driving down to the Grand Isle State Park we found that most of the roads were blocked off to all traffic. Every beach access we found had a sign that said “BEACH CLOSED” and many had security vehicles or personnel watching. Police presence on the highway was very obvious.

When we reached the park itself, only one road was open to the public with just about 40 feet of one walkway over the berm open with access blocked by a sign and sheriff’s deputies at the end of the walkway preventing any non-essential personnel from entering the beach.

I shot a few images at this location with both cameras, mostly a shot-by-shot panorama which I’ll post later.

We got back in the car and drove to the other end of the state park where the action was happening. We drove into the parking lot of what looked like the main cleanup staging area for the Island. Police were guiding us around kindly and basically we turned around without stopping.

We left the park, looking for some beach access and found an open beach to the west. The “BEACH CLOSED” sign had been covered with a black plastic bag so on it we went. Upon reaching the top of the berm I was disappointed but also expecting that disappointment. They had opened a beach that had been cleaned and an orange flood protection barrier had been placed at the high-tide line.

Dana and I saw a man and woman walking out at the water’s edge and I stopped to get photos of the pile of oily sand and what I think is an animal cleaning station. Perhaps two minutes had passed since we’d stepped onto the beach, that sheriff’s deputies drove up on four-wheeled ATV’s.

The couple who had been walking out along the water had crossed back over the orange barrier and were walking back up the beach towards the berm. I asked the man what he’d seen out in the water and he replied “there are a lot of nickel and dime-sized tar balls everywhere.”

In a very gracious and kind manner,the deputies on ATV’s instructed us that we could “enjoy the beach all you want, but do not cross the orange wall.” When they left, a pickup truck with two security personnel inside pulled up and watched us continue taking photos. As soon as we left the beach and crested the berm, the security truck had left and we were still being watched by the deputies from a few hundred feet away.

We returned to the car and drove back west, heading off the island but looking for more access to the beaches. From what we could see, every side road that had access to the water on the Gulf side of the Island was blocked by a police car.

I was kind of mentally prepared to be allowed access to a cleaned beach but when I saw it, I felt a bit more let down. Not only was it sterile, but it was abandoned, save for the security personnel making rounds. The people working were at the farther end of the Island at the State Park and we couldn’t even stop to ask questions there. It seemed like a very efficient method to control the amount of  information leaving the scene and the public image of how the operation is going.

National Guard vehicles parked behind one of the beach houses at a beach access point.

Walkway to the beach at Grand Isle State Park.

Pile of oily sand.

View from the car of the cleanup operation at the east end of Grand Isle State Park.

Most beach access points on Grand Isle are labeled “BEACH CLOSED.”

Cleanup location ‘Zone 10.”

Cleaning station with the orange flood protection barrier.

Cleanup location.

My next visit to the coast, wherever it is along the Gulf, hopefully will be a longer one with some real time to ask questions of workers and locals. We had a very limited amount of time to get there, find the beach and shoot some photos before Dana had to return home.

NOLA, more day two

2010/06/18

This is Chef Clayton Kendrick of the French Market Restaurant, located at the corner of Decatur and St. Philip streets.

I interviewed Chef Clayton a few hours ago about the oil spill and the effect it’s having on the oyster business in New Orleans.

“Right now, the oysters are there. They’re fresh, and perfectly good. What we’re battling right now is a mis-perception that people are thinking the oysters are all bad. The oyster beds in area 1, down by Hopedale are sheltered from the oil in the Gulf currents, so they are just fine.”

Chef Clayton went on to describe how the perception has caused the fishermen who harvest the oysters to contract their boats to BP for cleanup efforts. “The men who dredge for oysters are worried about their livelihood and feeding their families, you can’t blame them for that.” He said, describing how many boat crews have begun working for BP to make money cleaning up oil.

Like the domino effect that happens in the ecosystem when a part of it is disturbed, the oil spill has already cut into the seafood industry. The public is under the assumption that most of the seafood is tainted with oil; the workers who fish are worried that the restaurants will lose patrons and so find other means of collecting revenue, namely oil cleanup operations, funded by BP; the restaurants lose business because of the public mis-conception and the further scarcity and rising price of goods such as oysters. Around and around they go in a kind of spiral which threatens one of the most important industries in the region and in the country.

NOLA, day two

2010/06/18

Last night was concluded with a search for a lizard or gecko that had slipped into my place just after I returned from taking a few photos. the search ended in futility and only exhausted me a little more.

High temperature today will be in the mid-90’s with humidity over 70%. It feels well above 100 degrees outside. I’ll be out shooting soon enough.

Here’s a wide-angle look up-river from the riverwalk just a few hundred yards from the New Orleans Cathedral in the middle of the French Quarter.

This is the view of the Cathedral from the river wall at about 1 AM. The river is to my back.

Turning right is a landmark that goes without introduction.

The Cafe DuMonde. No, I’ve not been there but the call of a beignet is strong. Maybe I’ll stop there  before I leave.

So, I need to step it up with the photos and contact-making. I brought a full portable strobe kit & I intend to use it. I also brought my film camera with my last two rolls of Kodachrome that I’ll ever shoot & develop. I have to make those count too.

NOLA, still day one here

2010/06/18

It’s a while before midnight & the cafe Envie stays open until midnight, so here I am. Just a little update on a few things I’ve learned.

Venice, down south on the peninsula, is one of the big places in the region for animal rescue. I talked to a lot of people today about the oil floating around out there and everyone I spoke to sounded disgusted and some even sounded worried. I guess I would be too. The most interesting person I spoke to though is a woman who’s landlord is rescuing birds down in Venice. For some reason (health exposure?) the workers there are doing one week shifts on and two weeks off. I’m going to try to get down there & shoot some of the operation going on.

I haven’t had a chance to do any photo editing yet, but I’ll try to have some up tomorrow morning. No oil yet, but some of New Orleans. This weekend and early next week I should be able to get down to the gulf & get some photos of the direct toll of oil. Aside from that I’m going to be interviewing folks here in town & in the area who are affected, possibly just as much, but just not covered in oil.

NOLA, day one

2010/06/17

Yesterday I traveled from Philadelphia, Pa. to Atlanta, Ga. to New Orleans, La. It was a bit of an ordeal.

After my flight was delayed by an hour, we boarded and sat for 40 minutes because the pilots were late. I’m wondering how you arrive late to fly a plane that has already experienced a departure delay. We taxied out to the holdingarea and stayed there for 45 minutes. When we finally made it to the hold-short line, we had another 10 minute delay then finally left the ground.

Arriving in Atlanta over an hour late, I had missed my connection to NOLA by 6 minutes. I was put on standby and wandered around the Atlanta airport for about an hour. That place is like a mall. They have little rooms for rent and a spa. When I was eating a late lunch, I could swear I smelled a swimming pool. It reminded me of swimming lessons at the YMCA when I was little.

I barely made it onto the flight as a standby passenger, but I made it, which is what counts. Well, maybe. We taxied out for miles and miles and somewhere out there I dozed off. I awoke to a bad smell coming from a baby across the aisle. His mother was apologetic to us around her. The captain made an announcement that we’d be off the ground as soon as possible then we were on our way.

Arriving in New Orleans was nice. Let me say that it was humid. I mean, it reminded me of my deployment to Guam during early typhoon season. Wow.

I met my friend Chris Williams who is a photographer I know through the Leica Users Group. His work can be seen here: http://zoeicaimages.blogspot.com/ Chris got me situated in a nice little studio on Chartres just a few feet from the edge of the French Quarter off Esplanade.

I slept like I’d been beaten up.

It’s just after noon now and I’m writing from Cafe Envie just a few blocks from where I’m staying.

Regarding photos… they will come. I’ve only taken a few photos so far but just little night scenes near where I’m staying. I’m going to wander around the riverfront, see the French Quarter and maybe find a barber for a haircut. Chris and I are heading to the coast early next week to shoot some photos there. I may try to find my way down to one of the little towns on the peninsula where much of the shrimp and fishing boats are ported.

Days 4, 5 and 6

2010/06/14

I’ve neglected updating this blog for the past few days & I’m sorry for that. Just busy around here. Cleaning up this jumble of photographic gear and bicycling stuff. Too much stuff.

The trip to New Orleans is coming together nicely.  I’ve made some contacts, have a few rides around town arranged, probably an interview or two. A ride down to Grand Isle is also tentatively arranged. Then there’s the other gracious part of the south: I’ve been invited to at least one dinner, probably several from several different people who know people who know people I know. That’s excellent.

Day three

2010/06/10

Bought my plane ticket this morning. I’m making it a full two weeks, from the 16th to the 29th.

A few personal safety items arrived today: disposable thick nitrile gloves and a respirator with organic vapor cartridges.  I need to pick up some goggles before I go too. I’ll get some rubber boots after I arrive, they are just too bulky and heavy to pack in my luggage.

The next few days I’ll just be tying up loose ends here at home and trying to make some more contacts in the New Orleans area.

Day two

2010/06/09

It’s the second day since I officially started this endeavor to get to New Orleans and document as much as I could in the time I’ll be there. I’ve decided that two full weeks will be better than less than 10 days. Every day new doors open, new questions are asked and new answers are found.

To all the readers and supporters, I can’t thank you enough! This kind of took off in a way that I didn’t expect and I’m receiving encouragement and a few donations from people I’ve never met. It’s really quite amazing and I’m taken aback a little by your support.

Right now I’m investigating press credentials with a few different publications. I must say that I’m going to remain as objective as possible and report on as many facets of the spill as I can.

Thanks again, all.