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"This book is dedicated to all those who have touched me with their stories and helped me make these images come to life, and to all those who have lost family and home and who continue to rebuild their lives."  Cover, Still Here: Stories After Katrina by Joseph Rodriguez, published by powerHouse Books

Three years after Hurricane Katrina pummeled the Gulf Coast, it’s easy to forget the harrowing intensity of the storm and its aftermath. Since then, we’ve had other kinds of storms to consider, from Hurricane Ike in Texas to the current credit crisis that’s sending a tsunami of panic around the world.

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Eujon Samson, 3, grasps a cross worn by his stepfather, Arnold Baptiste, 38. Traumatized by the flooding, the boy has taken to stopping up sinks and holding his toys underwater.  DENTON, NOVEMBER 2005.  © Joseph Rodriguez.  Still Here: Stories After Katrina by Joseph Rodriguez, published by powerHouse Books
    
Nevertheless, as photographer Joseph Rodriguez eloquently points out in “Still Here: Stories After Katrina,” the 2005 hurricane should not be forgotten. Rodriguez’s point is well-taken: the national media might have moved on, but there are still many whose lives have not recovered from the hurricane, and their stories are not only affecting, but richly instructive about our government and communities.
   
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Graffiti on an abandoned New Orleans home evokes James Baldwin and an Old Testament warning: back in Noah?s day, God flooded the earth to wipe out the wicked. Next time, he?ll send fire. There will be no mercy, no escape.  NEW ORLEANS, SEPTEMBER 2006.  © Joseph Rodriguez.  Still Here: Stories After Katrina by Joseph Rodriguez, published by powerHouse Books

Rodriguez, a photojournalist who’s previously covered imprisoned youth and Los Angeles gang members, followed families who relocated to Texas after Katrina laid waste to their homes in New Orleans. Along the way, he found a host of fascinating characters. There’s the aptly-named Katrina Robinson, a woman with a prosthetic eye whose two teenage sons have both been left wounded – one of them paralyzed – by gun violence. There’s Earl Truvia, who spent 27 years in prison after being wrongly convicted for murder, and who now works to reduce gun violence among youth in New Orleans. There’s Sergeant Luke Kennedy, a New Orleans police officer who writes poetry to deal with the strain of police work in the Big Not-so-Easy.

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Before the storm, Katrina Robinson, 43, was the victim of a vicious beating and robbery that left her with a prosthetic eye. Katrina and her two sons were evacuated to Dallas, where she's been unable to find work. The three are living without furniture or regular food in a Dallas apartment.  DALLAS, TX, SEPTEMBER 2006.  © Joseph Rodriguez.  Still Here: Stories After Katrina by Joseph Rodriguez, published by powerHouse Books

The images Rodriguez captures aren’t particularly artful or eye-catching. (If that’s your preference, check out Robert Polidori’s haunting images of abandoned houses in New Orleans, “After the Flood,” or Chris Jordan’s equally charged images of abandoned objects in “In Katrina’s Wake.”) Instead, they’re raw, even a little ragged at the edges. But their direct, unmediated quality gives them a feeling of immense authenticity. Rodriguez has a gift for blending into his surroundings and capturing intimate moments, as he does in several images of Hilda Hendricks, a middle-aged woman who tries, without luck, to stop looters from stealing bits of her broken-down home. These are devastating portraits of a woman disintegrating under pressure, even as she tries – literally – to nail down the fragile pieces of her life. 

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Charles Robinson who is paralyzed (he was shot while living in New Orleans before hurricane Katrina hit) is living with his mother, Katrina Robinson at an apartment in Dallas, Texas. They are from the lower 9th Ward. Their FEMA money has run out and they are stressing on how they will pay their rent, they were evicted from their last apartment for failure to pay their rent where they sold all their furniture to find this new place. Dallas, Texas 9.06.  © Joseph Rodriguez.  Still Here: Stories After Katrina by Joseph Rodriguez, published by powerHouse Books

“Still Here” is remarkable in other ways too. In this historic election season, the book strikes a timely note, reminding us that race was a huge factor in the Katrina story. Needless to say, almost all of Rodriguez’s subjects are African-American. One of the only white faces in the book belongs to Christy Butler, the director of a children’s ministry at the First Baptist Church in Denton, Texas, who organized entertainment for evacuees’ children. Butler comes across as gracious, compassionate, and race-blind – but she’s unusual. A predominantly white community, Denton was challenged by its sudden influx of refugees. Rodriguez documents how some residents fell back on racial stereotypes, blaming refugees for not “getting back up on their feet” within weeks, no matter their huge handicaps. 

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Katrina Robinson tries to rest in her unfurnished apartment.  DALLAS, SEPTEMBER 2006.  © Joseph Rodriguez.  Still Here: Stories After Katrina by Joseph Rodriguez, published by powerHouse Books

Still, Rodriguez seems to say, the capacity for survival and grit among the evacuees was strong. The book’s title comes from a Langston Hughes poem, which announces triumphantly, “I’ve been scarred and battered/My hopes the wind done scattered… But I don’t care!/I’m still here!” But while celebrating the fortitude of the human spirit, the book isn’t a sentimental hymn to human endurance. Of the evacuees whose stories are told here, some fare better than others: Rudy Williams finds work as a butcher in Denton and decides to stay, while Joseph Lawrence winds up in a friend’s garage in New Orleans, smoking crack to dull his anxiety. Rodriguez offers these subjects to us objectively, letting the images and interviews speak for themselves. It’s a richly nuanced portrait of a group of people who, by and large, maintained their dignity while everything around them crumbled.

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Boys on a New Orleans street. Outreach workers say some teen boys have returned to the city without any adults.  NEW ORLEANS, OCTOBER 2006.  © Joseph Rodriguez.  Still Here: Stories After Katrina by Joseph Rodriguez, published by powerHouse Books


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nneri12

14-11-2008

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