Jennifer Shaw's HURRICANE STORY

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I strongly encourage you to get a copy of Hurricane Story, the beautiful cloth-bound art book by New Orleans-based photographer Jennifer Shaw. Just out this month from Broken Levee Books (an imprint of Chin Music Press), the slim 7″ x 7″ volume boasts an eloquent foreword by my old buddy/collaborator Rob Walker.

Here’s the book jacket description, which of course doesn’t do justice to the photos themselves:

Jennifer Shaw was nine months pregnant when Hurricane Katrina blew into the Gulf. In the early hours of August 28, 2005, she and her husband loaded up their truck with their two dogs, two cats, photo negatives, important papers, and a few changes of clothes. They evacuated to a motel in southern Alabama and tried to avoid watching the news. Monday, August 29, brought two life-changing events: the destruction of New Orleans and the birth of a son.

Using a simple Holga camera, Shaw narrates her six thousand-mile journey with dreamy and haunting photographs of toys that illustrate her emotional state during a time of exile, waiting, and eventual homecoming.
 

Hurricane Story is a fairytale of birth and death, joy and sadness, innocence and infinite despair. Through the unexpected device of the Holga camera and the toy dioramas, all the familiar images of the Katrina story are brought back to vivid life, reminding even the most jaded reader of what it felt like to live through those dark days.

The book’s beautifully staged tableaux are alternately sweet and menacing, filled with emotion but never spilling over into sentimentality. The book is highly personal yet somehow universal, mournful yet playful, striking a balance which to me seems perfectly New Orleanian.

The poetic marriage of words and photos makes Hurricane Story a children’s book — or, if you will, a “graphic novel” — for grown-ups.

For links to purchasing a copy, click here.

Jennifer Shaw's HURRICANE STORY

NOLA artist Blake Boyd

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Blake Boyd portrait

I just had my portrait taken by New Orleans visual artist Blake Boyd. He and his partner Ginette Bone drove up from NOLA (whew! that’s no joke of a drive!) for an event, and while they were in town they swung by my place to snap my mug.

The portrait was for a documentary art project, a series of personalities significant in their contribution to the diverse culture of New Orleans pre- and post- Hurricane Katrina. Blake started the project as a response to the devastation following the storm, hoping to present the vitality of the community rather than its near destruction. Born and raised in New Orleans, Blake seeks to reveal the essence of the Crescent City’s culture through the documentation of individuals recognized and associated with the city’s unique spirit.

I’m honored to be included in that list, which features a range of first responders and local celebrities — Allen Toussaint, Brad Pitt, Kermit Ruffins, Susan Spicer, Irma Thomas, Dr. John, Leah Chase — as well as representatives of local icons like Cafe du Monde, Mother’s Restaurant, New Orleans Saints players, and St. Augustine’s Marching Band.

I was amazed at how quick and painless the whole process was. Blake brought along a portable backdrop, and we took the photos on the stoop of my apartment building in natural light. He uses one of those cool old Polaroid cameras that produce super-high-resolution photos suitable for poster-sized prints. As you can see from the attached samples, each image is shot the same, head and shoulders only against a white backdrop.

I look forward to seeing this exhibition in a museum and/or book collection some time in the near future — supposedly a London show is in the works…

Blake Boyd photos

Bailey Fountain

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There was a piece recently in the New York Times about Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza — and it never mentioned the bizarre and wonderful Bailey Fountain! The fountain is so wacky: nothing’s more fun than observing people’s slack-jawed reactions as they walk by it. For most of the time I’ve lived in the area, the fountain was a decrepit ruin, but in 2005–2006, it was renovated to its current orgiastic condition. (They’re talking about redesigning the park to make it more accessible — they better not touch ol’ Bailey!)

What with all the sultry days we’ve been having of late, I thought I’d share some photos of the thing. The main figures supposedly represent Neptune, Wisdom, and Felicity; but I think they represent Orgasm, Sex, and Groping. Check it out:

"Signs of Life" book

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In the “wake” of Katrina Came Calling, I was approached to write the foreword to a new book of photographs. Called Signs of Life: Surviving Katrina, the book gives us a look at the multitude of hand-made signs which proliferated throughout the Gulf Coast following the storm. It’s a remarkable — and beautiful — collection, and it goes on sale today, Katrina’s one-year anniversary. [http://www.signsoflifebook.com — also, you can check out a Flickr.com slideshow of images here.]

All the proceeds from Signs of Life go to rebuilding the Gulf Coast, so I encourage you to make the investment. As Rob Walker (Titans of Finance, Letters from New Orleans) writes, “It’s impossible to speak for the people who lived through Katrina. Far better to let them speak for themselves. That’s exactly what these images (sad, hopeful, funny, enraging) capture—and it’s exactly what Signs of Life is about.”

My introduction follows.