photography and text by zev tiefenbach

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the gulf of mexico - september 2005

heading down to the gulf coast:

i responded, more then anything, to my fixation with watching the unfolding crises on cnn. i wanted to so much to re-engage with the world as it was happening and to further understand how the post-apocoplypic world functions and is organized. there were of course reports of new orleans being evacuated and of course the very disturbing images of national guardsmen taking babies away from their mothers. undoubtably, there was a very compelling socio-political story unfolding and naturally there was sure to be pockets of resistence. those that resisted the evacuation orders and stayed on in their communities distrustful of the states's intentions. i wanted to be amongst these folks to see first-hand how they might survive in the face of such extreme adversity. practically speaking, i wanted to know what they were eating and how, what their supply netweroks looked like and of course to be of assistance where possible.

i was very fortunate to have gained access to new orleans and the gulf coast when i did. evidently the destruction, and human trauma is extreme, but in the face of there horrors, there were some remarkable and radical projects unfolding on the ground. i was honoured to be able to work with many of the individuals that i did.

it was difficult to photograph. . .

i felt very challenged in taking photographs. i did not want to exploit the situation to take sensational photographs. but was nonethless confused as to what kinds of images were lacking from the public record. in the end, i photographed as i usually do, that is, the traces and geographies which constiute this calamity.

sites of disaster:

biloxi, mississippi

biloxi was the first town i saw which had been utterly devestaed. i spent time on the east-side amongst the viatnamese fishermen. during the storm surge many congregated in the buddhist temple and survived. in this part of town there was not a house which was not destroyed by water damage.

further to the west, biloxi's resort-size offshore casinos had been heaved over 1/2 mile on-shore. beneath and surrounding these casinos were the remains of small housing subdivisions.

gulfport, mississippi

gulfport is an affluent resort town just to the west of biloxi. there i photographed a top of the remains of decadence. the entire stretch of coast here was inaccessible to the public blocked off by reams of barbed wire and check points with state troopers. locals with oversized suv's pressed for access to surveying the remains and sift through the rubble. some, underestimating the carnage had even arrived with u-hauls prepared to transport that which had remained intact. there was little left.

the commercial junket was similarly devastated. miles of beach-side fast-food outlets had been swallowed into the sea with only their high sign posts left behind like frail chicken bones.

waveland, mississippi

still further to the west lay the remains of waveland. this neighborhood was more densely populated and from the identifiable rubble one could discern tool chests, cordless drills, bicycles, and lawnmowers. all that remained of this southern end of the town were these fields of debris, where each households possessions were matted together in useless heaps.

the population here was relatively bewildered. some brought in small camper trailers and camped on their lots, others were in making-shift shelters waiting to hear word from their missing, many locals were swept out to sea with the storm surge.

irish bayou, louisianna

just to the east of new orleans rests the small crabbing community of irish bayou. the approach along interstate 10 towards irish bayou from new orleans was largely flooded and this deserted town was now mostly forgotten. one local, back to check on his property wondered what lay next for this community. "no more crabs" he said flatly. he told me that almost everyone in town had evacuated before katrina had hitland. two families had stayed on and they had not survived.

as i surveyed the remains of this coastal town rita was making her approach with a grey swirling sky and sustained winds.i pushed through the wind photographing the damage and i felt afraid of what was coming.

lower ninth ward, new orleans

i returned to new orleans after rita hit and after the lower ninth ward had been re-flooded. it was a sunny and hot day and i got into my gaiters and waded through the sludge. it was very quiet and serene save for the helicopters buzzing overhead and i could only imagine the trauma and death that had unfolded over these blocks some three prior. here in the lower ninth ward, the water had flooded rapidly, well above the level of rooftops and there was no place to go. on the ground in post-hurricane new orleans, rumors suggest a death-toll in the thousands for this neighborhood alone. rescue teams had been ordered to pitch corpses into the mississippi. i waded up to my chest solemnly documenting a neighborhood that will soon exist no more.