When Hurricane Katrina approached New Orleans, photographer David G. Spielman decided to stay and weather the storm, assisting his uptown neighbors, a community of Poor Clare nuns. Katrina passed, and as the flood waters filled the city, the scope of the devastation only gradually dawned on Spielman, who was cut off from outside communication. Faced with the greatest personal and professional challenge of his life, he determined to document the scene unfolding around him. He managed to secure a generator to power his laptop computer, and in the days, weeks and months after August 29, 2005, he transmitted e-mails to hundreds of friends and clients and cautiously traversed the city taking photographs.
"Katrinaville Chronicles," published this month by LSU Press, gathers Spielman's images and observations, relating his unique perspective on and experience of a historic catastrophe.
Spielman never expected his e-mails to survive beyond the day he sent them. But his descriptions of what he was seeing, hearing, smelling, thinking, feeling and fearing in post-Katrina New Orleans were forwarded again and again, even around the globe. They reveal the best and worst in Spielman: a Samaritan who becomes caretaker of the sisters' monastery, as well as a stressed gent who frets about the lack of starched shirts and a decent cup of coffee. He rants about political leaders and voices a deep concern for his city's future. He tells of feeling overwhelmed, at a loss for words, unable to capture on film the individual tragedies manifested in home after destroyed home, many marked by death. His arresting black-and-white photographs record the details of the disaster on both a grand and an intimate scale, at times recalling works by Walker Evans, Robert Frank and Henri Cartier-Bresson.
What emerges above all is Spielman's buoyant spirit. Living without electricity or running water and existing on peanut butter sandwiches, he nonetheless is able to appreciate the complete quiet and unadulterated starlight in a city made surreal without power. He encourages his fellow citizens to see Katrina as an opportunity for improving upon the past and making a better tomorrow.
"Katrinaville Chronicles" is Spielman's in-the-moment, very human response to and stunning visual record of - as he puts it - "a thing so huge I still can't get my mind around it."
Spielman is a fine art, commercial and journalistic photographer whose images have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers, including the London Times, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Time, Newsweek, Forbes and Architectural Digest. "Southern Writers" was his first book. His assignments have taken him to six continents, and his photographs are held in numerous private collections and museums. He lives in New Orleans.
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