NOLA contacts update

Last week I found a few people to contact in New Orleans that could potentially connect me to public art pieces around the city. One of them being Elizabeth, the director of the AORTA Projects and then a few artists as well. I have yet to hear back from the artists, but I did receive an email from Elizabeth this morning. She said that the AORTA Projects are still a functioning organization and although a lot of the work is no longer standing, she would be willing to take me around to the pieces that remain as well as stand in as a voice for my documentary. So great to get that contact! :] Also, this weekend I took a look at the Arts Council of New Orleans and found a public arts section. The person I would like to contact is Morgana, the public arts manager for the council. My instructor also heard from a friend that Morgana would be a good person to contact – I am taking that as an extra reason to get in touch with her. Hopefully both Elizabeth and Morgana can lead me to compelling stories to address in my documentary.

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Recent Work

I am currently in the process of getting my videos from Vimeo onto my general film blog. Until then you can find my past projects right here on Vimeo. :] Hopefully that helps you get a sense of my background. Cheers!

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Public Art of New Orleans

After showing much interest in the artwork of Banksy and the Gray Ghost, I have decided to focus my documentary on public art in New Orleans as a collective. From what I have heard, the city is covered in various forms of art (both professional and from the public) that decorate New Orleans and give it its unique and lively personality. I want to focus on several of the public art pieces around the city and the story behind their design. Who created it? What does it represent? Why they decided to display it? What statement were they trying to make by placing it in front of the public eye? How have they seen it viewed by the public? then also asking the public… what do you think of the artwork? What kind of emotions does it evoke in you? Does it add to the city’s style or does it contrast with everything you know this city to be? Lots of questions are formulating…

I’ve been researching public art pieces as well as the people who have contributed their art to the streets of New Orleans. A few links I have taken a look at:

The AORTA Projects

(The last update to the AORTA Projects site was made back in September 2009, but I would like to see if the work is still there and if the artists are still there for me to interview)

The AORTA Projects is an on-going (hopefully still on-going) public art project. Its purpose is to provide a creative outlet for people dealing with post-disaster trauma. It allows them to participate in the “physical and spiritual re/animation of post-disaster landscapes.” It is a great way for the artists to challenge themselves and to give positive growth to a city dealing with crisis.

There is a lot of incredible artwork on that blog that I would love to take a look at and speak to people about. The director of the program, Elizabeth Underwood, is someone I need to first get in contact with. I need to ask her if the program is still going on and if there is any way she would be available for an interview. I am first going to try and contact her by email and then we will go from there. On the blog and her personal website, the only contact information available is her email address. I will try both the aorta projects email address as well as her personal address. My next step will be pinpointing the individual artists on the blog and seeing if I can find contact information for them.

The pieces I am most interested in from that site are “Open House” and the “Blue Fence”. The “Open House” was created by architect Susan E Neely. On the lot where a house once stood prior to Katrina, Neely placed red structures in the shape of the furniture that would have been there. It is a bold statement that shows how much of an impact the storm had on people’s homes. I am going to try to be in contact with this individual artist.

The other one, “Blue Fence”, was constructed by Jennifer Odem in the Upper 9th Ward. It was to symbolize the destruction that took place in that community and was constructed using light weight materials such as tarps and poles into a long “open-ended rhythmic line”. The artist spent a year taking care of the land surrounding it; picking up debris, replacing and maintaining the grass, and creating trusting relationships with the locals. On the site, it looks as if the “Blue Fence” may have only been on display for a short period of time and it may no longer be there. I will try to find the artist and hear what she has to say about it though.

Another public artist, Takashi Horisaki, is one that I would like to be in contact with. He set up the project, Social Dress New Orleans, in order to raise awareness of the issue in New Orleans. He created a replica of a house in New Orleans post-Katrina that would then be displayed in NY. He hasn’t blogged on the site in about a year as well so I’ll have to see what I can get from this information.

Many people to try and contact. Wish me luck!

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Brainstorming Stories

In the past two weeks of our class we have focused primarily on story ideas for our documentaries. Very soon we will have to choose our final stories so that we can spend the next few weeks setting up interviews and preparing equipment for our shoots. I’ve kicked off my research by visiting Nola.com and other New Orleans sites. Since I have never been to New Orleans, researching the city has become an important tool in choosing a story. I know that it could potentially be hard to avoid a story related to Hurricane Katrina or the oil spill, but I wanted to try and push myself away from stories that have already been told. I started thinking of story ideas based off of my own personal interest. A lot of my story ideas were weeded out after last week, but the ones that stuck were: an inside story on BP employees and how their company has been impacted by the oil spill, positive side of devastation (how people have made the best out of the worst situations) and also how marine mammals and wildlife have been recovering from the oil spill and their relief efforts. I thought those would be solid story ideas, but look… they all were somehow related to Katrina/oil spill. I’m thinking it will be real hard to avoid. I’ve talked to many people about my story ideas and have been given some good suggestions. Related to the positive side of devastation, I was interested in looking at the art that has formed in response to Hurricane Katrina. My instructor, Becky told me about “Banksy”, a British graffiti artist who has created beautiful graffiti work in New Orleans after the storm.

Another graffiti artist named Fred Radtke, known as the “Gray Ghost” has made it solely his job to cover up Banksy’s art with ugly gray paint. People in New Orleans have had such a respect and admiration for Banksy’s work that they have gone to great measures to keep it in their city (ie. covering it in plexi glass). There has become a sort of battle between Banksy and Radtke that I have found to be quite interesting and unique.

I am going to further my research on that to decide if I could create that into a fulfilling enough story. After viewing, American Experience: New Orleans, I became interested in above-ground tombs found in their cemeteries as well. It is such a different environment from cemeteries here at home that I thought people would be intrigued by it. Other ideas included looking up human-interest pieces and focusing on one unique person in the community. Still trying to formulate some more solid ideas, but I think I have been off to a solid start.

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The True Meaning of Pictures

Our second assignment was to view Jennifer Baichwal’s documentary entitled, “The True Meaning of Pictures: Shelby Lee Adams’ Appalachia”. The documentary was about Shelby Lee Adams: a renowned artist known for his controversial photography of families along the Appalachian Trail in Kentucky. Born in Eastern Kentucky himself, Adams has had a special connection to the people of Appalachia. He devoted the past 30 years of his life to creating portraits of those families in order to rid them of the stereotypes they have been given for so many years. He wanted to “bring honor back to Eastern Kentucky”. For some people, he did exactly that, but then others viewed it as a way of exploiting his people and showing them in the wrong light. Personally, I found myself able to fight for both sides of the argument. At times I understood his creative freedom as an artist, but at other times I saw him as crossing boundaries and potentially making worse of the situation.

Adams’ photography was created with a black and white film camera. He said at the beginning of the film that his psyche was attracted to people who were suffering. So, as the film progressed, I was not too surprised with the subject matter he chose. His main subject during the documentary was the Napier family. He chose to approach the documentation of this family in a personal and expressionistic light that would show the true and realistic conditions that they lived in. All of the work that Adams did of this family was also shot with a Polaroid camera so that they could instantly see what he had photographed. They subjects would approve the photographs prior to their publication. If his work were published, he would give the family a copy of their portraits. I think that is a very professional way of showing respect for his subjects.

One particular portrait from the film that made me feel was crossing boundaries was the one of the “Hog Killing”. It was a portrait of the Napier family with the butchered hog hanging in the center of the frame (hog head in a pan on the ground) and the family surrounding it. It was a beautiful image. The family members were all smiling and it showed their real personalities, but what made me question it was the fact that the portrait was staged. He said that he had pictured that image in his mind and wanted to re-create it. He purchased the hog specifically for them to kill it and have it documented. This poses the questions, how much of a documentarian was Adams during that time? Did he place the subjects in such a way in order to evoke a certain emotion? On the other hand, it was a traditional way that hogs were killed in that region and Adams did purchase the hog for them. It actually provided two families with enough pork for three whole months.

The documentary made me reflect a lot on what my purpose will be in New Orleans as well as my general purpose as a documentarian. I need to keep in mind how much of an influence I will want to have on my own work. Will my opinion on the subject matter shape how it is portrayed or will I draw the line and let the subject speak for oneself? I personally see myself as an artist who finds uniqueness in every story and wants to share it as it comes naturally. I do not like to glorify anything and will share it how it is. Of course if it means improving the quality of the documentary, I may probe the subject to reflect deeper on questions, but is that wrong? I guess I don’t know. If there is one thing I have learned… Art is subjective and not everyone will view my work the way it I intended.

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American Experience: New Orleans

Our first assignment for the New Orleans Travel and Study Program was to view American Experience: New Orleans. It was a documentary created in 2007 to share the history of the city of New Orleans, Louisiana and why it has become such a national landmark for its invention of jazz music, extravagant nightlife and unique cuisine. Despite all the heartache from segregation, several natural disasters, and constant reconstruction, this city has had a lot to offer its nation.

The section of the documentary I chose to focus on was the Great Mississippi Flood that took place back in 1927. Because New Orleans was described as “living in a bowl surrounded by water… on a flood plain” the city became a natural levee between the Mississippi River and Lake Ponchartrain. The majority of the city is between 1-2 feet below sea level so when the great bodies of water flood, so does their city. Back in the early 1900’s, there wasn’t much separation between the city’s drinking water and its’ waste water. Due to the lack of separation, New Orleans became a site for severe epidemics including Yellow Fever. Mosquitoes swarmed the waterways. The contamination caused many to become ill with the fever and die.  Back in 1880, the average life expectancy for New Orleanian’s was only 46 years old. To try and alleviate the epidemic, the city began using wood pumps to start pumping out water from its back swamp: the area between the natural levee and floodplain. Eventually the city would have seven separate wood pumping stations.

In 1927, a storm approached the city and the electricity to the wood pumps was cut off. On Good Friday that year, the city of New Orleans filled with water and in some places, 4 feet of water stood in the city streets. To try and eliminate the amount of flooding to the wealthier parishes in New Orleans, the Citizen’s Flood Relief Committee decided to blow up part of the cities natural levee. To avoid the richer areas, they decided to find a place that was more convenient: St. Bernard Parish and Plaquemine Parish. Those parishes were considered to be the more rural, less developed communities. They saw that region of the city as a minimal financial loss because the water would flow in that direction versus towards the wealthier parts of the city. The parish of St. Bernard had 12,000 residents that were suddenly displaced from their homes. The Committee promised them compensations for the evacuation of their homes. Unfortunately, the instant refugees of those parishes never received those reparations.

When the Committee finally set the explosions, they had a difficult time actually getting the levee to explode. It took 10 days and 39 tons of dynamite to actual breach the levee. When it finally did, 12,000 people were without homes, their dignity and were now living in warehouses. The flowing water washed away the city’s surface to reveal ruthless people that had no regard for people.

I found this to be such a devastated story. It was horrible to hear that people would even think to flood the homes of over 12,000 people just because it was “more convenient”. The story however was a great insight into how New Orleans became a natural levee for the Mississippi and the Ponchartrain. I now have a better understanding of why tropical storms cause such devastation to that area. It was a great extension of my research of the area of New Orleans and makes me want to learn so much more.

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