While New Orleans residents had seen that massive milky-white hurricane spiraling its way toward them on TV weather maps, few could have imagined the devastation it would leave in its path. By August 30, 2005, one day after Hurricane Katrina made landfall, 75 percent of this Gulf Coast capital was under water and more than 1,300 of its population had perished.
Like their fellow survivors, photographers in the region are still struggling to recover, with mixed success. Despite having to clear one hurdle after another just to keep their businesses from going under, they consider themselves the lucky ones. Recently, several photographers shared their experiences and current situations with SP&D. Here are their stories. . .
Since 1979, I have operated my studio out of my second residence in New Orleans. My primary home is in Covington, some 30 miles north of there. When I headed home on Friday, August 26, the storm was still expected to turn north. By Saturday morning, I heard on TV that the storm was headed to New Orleans. A veteran of countless evacuations in the area, I—like everyone else—thought I'd be back Monday morning, business as usual.
I finished photographing a wedding in the French Quarter at 12:30 that Sunday morning. It was eerie how deserted the usually vibrant place had become. With my camera equipment in the car, I headed for my daughter's home in Pensacola, Florida. It was two weeks before I would return home. When I reached Covington, my house had four pine trees resting on the roof, which gave me a great skylight. It was another six weeks before I was allowed to go back to the city to check on my business.
Today, my studio and neighborhood still don't have gas or electricity. My business was in one of the highest elevations in the city. Since the building opened in 1938, it had never flooded. Now we had three feet of water in our studio and office. What the water didn't damage, the mildew and mold did. We're unable to rebuild until the city regains power, which may take months.
I have managed to keep five weddings out of the 30 scheduled for the remainder of the year. The hardest part has been finding my clients, since all forms of communication were wiped out. I've relocated my office to my home in Covington and have had to cram 600-square-feet worth of office into 100 square feet. Through the generosity of another New Orleans photographer, I will be sharing his shooting room and reception area.
No one can predict when the wedding business in New Orleans will return to normal. Hopefully, it will be in the next six months. However, with many of the downtown and French Quarter hotels damaged, it could take a great deal longer. I will survive this ordeal through the help of God, many friends, and photography organizations that have been so supportive.
Bob Bradford www.bobbradford.com
Our studio is located in Hammond, Louisiana, about 60 miles northwest of New Orleans. Although our area received a lot of wind damage, the studio itself was not damaged. Our electricity was on within a week. Mail resumed within three weeks. We are one of the lucky ones.
Things are certainly different, though. We had 12 weddings scheduled for the New Orleans area between Labor Day and Christmas. We contacted all of the brides who were scheduled for the remainder of 2005 via email and a post on theknot.com since phone service is still not completely "healed." We've assured them we're O.K., our equipment is O.K., and we're ready to be with them on their day. Most of them are beginning to try to get all their arrangements rescheduled and/or relocated. As of now, we have lost one wedding.
We are technically back in business, however, since the vast majority of our business actually happens inside of New Orleans, certain things just aren't happening. The extent of our insurance coverage was $1,000 for loss of business due to utility outage. We are not able to get future coverage against something like this since our physical business is not actually in New Orleans. The fact that we have signed contracts for events to occur in New Orleans doesn't seem to have significance to the insurance industry.
We brought our computer and computer backups with us when we evacuated and had backup disks in a separate location.
In addition, we use Pictage for online services and they provide backup as well. A few of our past brides have contacted us to say they had lost their wedding photos when their homes flooded. We are trying to help them in any way we can.
Johnny Chauvin www.chauvinphotography.com