I Am Waters Foundation

Today is 12.11.2016

New Orleans – 2009

Lower-Ninth-Ward

The Lower Ninth Ward being rebuilt by Brad Pitt's Make It Right Foundation

Peter and I were introduced to the meaning of humidity by having chosen New Orleans in June.

Peter and I were introduced to the meaning of humidity by having chosen New Orleans in June.

Hurricanes Katrina and Ike devastated the Gulf coast. The Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans was one of the hardest hit areas. When the levy broke, hundreds of homes were destroyed and left thousands homeless. Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation and others have pitched in to clean up and rebuild the area. We went to New Orleans to see, and photograph for ourselves the places and the people that were effected by these disasters.

Setting up on Rampart

Setting up on Rampart

Our first day of shooting was perfect. We set up on Rampart Street and photographed our first group of subjects, children from different parts of New Orleans who were dropped off at a church for a day of activities and a meal. We didn’t interview the kids about their individual situation or personal details, but received brief explanations from the Sisters who were chaperoning them. Some had a parent, some did not. The kids were taken to the soup kitchen for their hot meal and the photo shoot.

The kids were expressive and thoroughly enjoyed having their photos taken; they posed, sang and had a great deal of fun. They were naturals in front of Peter’s camera. A few of the little girls asked why we wanted to photograph them and who we were. I told them that I grew up in the same kind of neighborhood and missed where I was from and the kind of people that I used to know…people like them. I was back because it made me happy. They asked where I live now. I told them in a nice neighborhood with my family. When they queried how I got to live where I did, I shared with them that I focused on making a better life than the one into which I was born and explained to them that because they were born into a particular set of circumstances it didn’t mean it was a permanent road for their lives. Their paths could be whatever they wanted them to be. I asked the kids what they wanted for their lives and what they wanted to be when they grew up. One little girl said “Beyonce” and another little girl said “Rich”. “Great!” I said.

Follow the dream that doesn’t leave you.

What are your dreams?

What are your dreams?

There is one particular dream that will keep calling out to you. I believe that calling is what you are here to fulfill. One of the kids said “What if I don’t know what it is?” Wait for it to come and don’t make the mistake of living someone else’s dream as a substitute; it has to be the one in your heart, the one you were born with. I got a bunch of hugs and toothless smiles as the kids left to go back to the church with the Sisters. The children had copies of all of their photos to enjoy by the end of the day.

The second day we shot at Covenant House. That was the day we met Crystal, extraordinary, four year old Crystal. She was on her way to California via bus with her mother to re-join family in hopes of having a place to live, which gave us about 20 minutes to shoot her. She was animated and loved every click of the camera. With each shot that Peter took of her she ran to him to see how it looked in the viewfinder. Getting Crystal onto the bus after photographing her proved to be a challenge, as she did not want to stop taking pictures, and cried as she was carried off. Her mother shared with us that if they had had more time she would have had Crystal entertain us with the British accent she frequently uses for fun.

Later that day, we shot a bright and energetic group of young adults, some with young infants. As Peter photographed the residents, the others stayed gathered to watch us work. I received some of the same questions that I had received the previous day from the church group: “Where were we from and why were we doing this?” This time the question came from a petite young lady with bright eyes and a sweet smile.

Covenant House Girl

Covenant House Girl

I told her that we wanted to bring a human face to the homeless through the photos. I think that many people in the general public have a negative perception of the homeless, and I want to correct that . The photos will speak of who the homeless are.

She shared that she wanted to be a professional but she only has a high school diploma and that it was easier for me, because I had an education. I let her in on the number of schools that I had attended before dropping out in the eighth grade to work, informing her she had the higher education between the two of us. “You sound smart though,” she said. “I am smart, I just don’t have a formal education” I replied. She told the story of her life, which was held together by her internal courage and resilience. We became fast friends.

Acrobats in the Heat

Acrobats in the Heat

Putting people in front the camera makes them feel special. In a world where everyday life is filled with furtive glances and tempered indifference, the simple act of asking someone if you can shoot their picture gives many of them joy. These boys that we shot were brilliant acrobats and natural hams, ready to be captured in action and happy to show off their accomplishments. As we wrapped up, the answer to the first and last question of our day echoed in my head “to put a human face on homelessness; to show the nation that homeless is not demographic, homeless is people”.

My hope is that this website will bring these images to public attention, which is intended to provoke and stimulate awareness that THIS great nation has needs too.

-Elena Davis

Check out the campaign Slide Show to see some of the final images.

We Will Rebuild the Lower Ninth Ward - New Orleans Memorial

We Will Rebuild the Lower Ninth Ward - New Orleans Memorial