This photo essay tells a story about the firefighters of New Orleans and its surrounding communities. Firefighters give more than they receive and they are happy to do it. Those that live in southern Louisiana gave more than they wanted and had the rest taken from them by Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent exodus and fallout. Still these civil servants are there working, giving and striving to rebuild while still protecting what they have.
This project is about the people of the fire service, not the destruction or the sadness, but the resilience and the love for the life they lead. There is a brotherhood that is inherent in the fire service. These men live together 24 hours at a time every 3 days. The people they work with become their family and their community becomes their extended family. When a fire company loses a building they are trying to save or are unable to save a life they take it very hard. A bad day at work for firefighter doesn’t go away once they get home, it can stick with them for life. When a fire department loses its community they have to be overwhelmed. How can they protect the their people and their homes when there are no facilities, equipment or able bodies to make that protection possible? This community found a way.
The firefighters of Southern Louisiana made do with what they had. They saved the lives they could and honored those they could not. They salvaged the homes and buildings that were salvageable and rebuilt the rest. Some stations are still working out of temporary trailer homes. Brand new equipment sits outside while it waits for the new facilities to be built. Destroyed and abandoned stations still exist and wait to be torn down while the priority lies in building new ones. These ghostly reminders can be seen everywhere in the form of homes, commercial buildings, and fire stations.
While the landscape has changed the people have not. These firefighters are happy to be where they are. They are more than happy to take in a stranger and show him their community, feed him and joke around all day until they are called to duty, then it’s all business until the job is done, and then it’s back to life as usual. A kinder, braver, more generous group of people could not be found anywhere on this planet. They have faced the unimaginable and they came out of it just fine.
It’s sad to see New Orleans in the state of disrepair it is in. It’s encouraging to see New Orleans in the state of repair that it is in. The people of this city are like no other culture. They are proud and humble, funny and sad, they will not forget who they are and they will not leave the place that makes them who they are. These people are strong and determined and they will bring their city back to its former glory. The firefighters of this city are no different.
Here I sit in the hotel lobby waiting for it to be 3:00. After check-out I walked down to a NOFD station that is four blocks from our hotel. I walked by this station at least a dozen times this week and it took me until the last day to check it out. Turns out it is a headquarters and houses Engine 29 and "a bunch of pencil pushers." The firefighter I met there was from Green Bay but I decided to photograph him anyway. I bought a t-shirt and that is all for me in New Orleans.
This is the end of the trip but this is not the end of the project. Next for me is the remaining week and a half of our break during which I will probably not look at these photos at all. Once school gets rolling again we will edit and process all of our photos (what you have seen on these blogs is a very small sample of what we have done). The final product of this endeavor will be a book of photos for each project and a gallery showing at the Minneapolis Central Library's Dunn Brothers where we will each have few photos on display. Please check back for more details and dates. Thank you for taking the time to follow this blog, I hope you have enjoyed it and stick around for the end.
Today I went to nine different locations to photograph fire stations. I saw stations I had previously visited, stations that were under construction, stations that were no longer there and stations that had long since been abandoned. I think I got some shots that will really help round out my project and some shots that were just for fun (i.e. alligator).
I would like to thank Colleen and Becky for shuttling us around and organizing our demanding schedules all while dealing with the stress, heat and whining. I would also like to thank the personnel of the New Orleans area fire departments that were so generous and helpful. And thank you to New Orleans and its surrounding communities for the hospitality.
Today I enjoyed a revitalizing soak in the salt water. It has been far too long since I've been in the ocean. I did not enjoy the worst sunburn of my life. It has been far too long since I've been in the sun. There was no photography for me today, purely unwinding and whining.
Yesterday, on the other hand, was once again an amazing experience with the firefighters of St. Bernard Parish, specifically Engine 8 and District Chief Silva. After meeting them on Tuesday they invited me to come back to take more photos and partake in a shrimp boil. This consisted of 30 pounds of shrimp that had been caught that morning, sausage, potatoes, onions, mushrooms, corn, garlic, spices and seasoning. This was by far the best meal I have had down here and I don't expect to find a better one. Dinner was accompanied by a frenzied conversation that can only be experienced in a Louisiana fire station. I found it difficult to focus on my purpose of making photographs and not just relish in the company I was in.
Here are a few examples of what went on that night. Big props go out to Micah who was my lighting assistant and motivator. He made me try some techniques I don't normally do. I made him try some food he won't normally do.
Today I made it to a groundbreaking ceremony for the future site of the St. Bernard Parish Fire Department's Station 8 just in time to hear "Hey Nick, you just missed it." This was after I had the wrong address of the ceremony for Station 6 at 8:30 and our Super-Soccer Mom had driven all over southern Louisiana to drop off three other students and bring me back for the 9:30 groundbreaking of Station 8 (which, it turned out, was really at 9:00). I must have been visibly bummed because Chief Stone said "...we'll stage one for ya." After getting that shot a news camera showed up and they did another "real" one, and I got that shot too.
After the groundbreaking(s) we drove back to pick up everyone else and back, again, to St. Bernard so I could make some portraits of the Chief (who has been so helpful and generous) and the dispatchers who work behind the scenes and are often forgotten in projects like these. This, of course, took much longer than I expected because these people are so nice and wanted to talk and share stories and pictures with me. I was more than willing to listen and learn but there were four exhausted and sweaty people waiting in a sweet minivan for me to finish so they could go rest before our afternoon plans. I ended up making these poor souls sit for an hour while I was in the air conditioning laughing it up and trying to get the Chief to look at the camera. I would like to thank Becky, Lisa, Kristyna and Peter for being so patient. I hope these results are worth the pain and suffering they endured.
Today brought a unique experience with The Times-Picayune, the New Orleans-area local paper. We were invited to visit the offices and go on ride-a-longs with the Pulitzer Prize winning staff photographers. My group went with Ted Jackson to the LSU Medical Center, a complex that had it's basement completely flooded and 3 feet of water on the main floor during the storm. The building is still under renovation and Ted was there on assignment as the Times will be running a story regarding the progress.
Our tour was led by a PR person from LSU. We began in the basement where the majority of the damage was done to all the mechanical and electrical systems that are housed down there. As we went up the building's floors we saw progress and eventually the finished product on the top few levels which were already occupied.
It was great to watch a photojournalist work and see his process from getting to the location, meeting and talking with the people, getting the shots he is looking for and editing his photos back at the paper. I would like to thank The Times-Picayune, its editor and photographers for taking the time to do this for us.
The following and above are a few examples of my photos from today.