Vanessa stood small and elfish on the sidewalk. We we're across the street from Café Du Monde in the French Quarter of New Orleans. "Before Katrina, it was right here." She pointed up at a non-existent sign. "This used to be a Wolf Camera." She then turned in place, looking as if she had just misplaced something. "Sometimes it's hard because you don't know what stores are here anymore or if they're even coming back."
Vanessa was one of the production assistants for the photo shoot and she was trying to help me find film for my Lomo camera. I refuse to buy a digital one. Most digital pictures look flat and still can't capture the magic of film. To me, they are more like image capture devices. Despite the fact, they are able to reproduce an image it tends to be an approximation of reality. The Lomo on the other hand, takes magical pictures. Each and every one of them looks like a little postcard that has been whisked back from the '60's. In the instant that the shutter clicks, it is able to capture something ineffable beyond just the mere image itself. It's the vast difference between fractions and their decimal approximations. Though the distinction appears negligible, what is not there is the infinite soul of the moment.
It probably has something to do with megapixels and wotnot.
A small, thin, Black man passed us just then. "Yeah." he continued where Vanessa had left-off. "It used to be a Wolf Camera but they aren't coming back. They sold the store to the family that was running it. They don't open 'til 11:00 though." "Thanks", Vanessa said. They traded stories for a few minutes about life after Katrina, something I would come to see is quite common. Everyone has a story about Katrina. We had to cut it short because we had to be on set for an 8:30 call time and since we had stopped at Café Du Monde for Beignets, we were running a bit late.
We made a quick stop at Walgreen's for film. (I settled for Kodak rather than my preferred Fuji.) Leaving the store, I jumped into Vanessa's car. She apologized for its state, pushing aside a scatter of papers. "I lived in my car for sixteen days and I still haven't quite recovered." I assured her there was no need for an apology. This was my first time in New Orleans, so as we drove she pointed out empty shells of houses, describing what had been there. Even though many of them were deserted, it was easy to imagine them as they once had been. I pictured them as rows of beautiful, empty gowns, hanging lifeless on hangars just after a ball.
Eighty percent of New Orleans suffered damage due to Katrina. Vanessa and her family had been forced to relocate to Texas. Initially she lived with an aunt for a few days but the house became overcrowded with other family members seeking asylum from the storm. Vanessa chose to sleep in her car for sixteen days until her grandmother returned to town. She stayed in Texas for nearly a year and had been back in New Orleans for about three months. I would hear similar stories from several other people. At last count New Orleans was back up to seventy percent of the pre-Katrina population. As we drove, I noted the Fema crosses adorning the buildings, like grave markers.
To be honest, this is what I had feared in coming down here. I had watched the death and devastation on the news and cried as I watched, "When The Levees Broke", by Spike Lee. I was not looking forward to seeing it up close and personal. I feared the sadness would be overwhelming. I hadn't anticipated that just beneath the sadness, there was something else. Something unspoken in the stories that people tell. Somewhere beneath the FEMA crosses and between the numbers like seventy percent. There is something soulful.
So while from a distance New Orleans had seemed to me, flat in its tragedy, up close there is something beautiful, that lies just beneath the sadness. It reminds me of The Blues.
Or pictures taken on film with a simple Lomo Camera.