Trip Start Aug 19, 2006
55Trip End Oct 30, 2006
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In any case, I just have to say a few words about what a wonderful man I'm traveling with... yes, I mean Chris! See, when we went to the lower 9th Ward last night, it was to meet up with Anderson Cooper so Chris could photograph him. We didn't find them because the producer and Cooper's PR person didn't call us with their location. I would have been freaking out if I was him. Instead, he just drove up and down streets really slowly in first gear, letting me (and helping me too) look for cats to feed/photograph. In fact, anytime we've been cruising around town, if we see a kitty (and frankly, he sees them before I do most times), he stops and lets me go drop some food, no matter what we're on the way to shoot. It's not just any guy who would do that, right girls? Anyway, I just wanted to mention what a great guy he is, just cuz.
So today was the anniversary of Katrina. One year ago today, a category 5 hurricane headed towards the Gulf Coast. Despite the fact that it was a Cat 3 when it made landfall, the storm surge alone was more than anyone could have expected. Add the levies breaking and they ensuing mayhem, well - you just can't make this shit up!!
Today was a big day for everyone and the angst and tension was palpable. People were seeing footage of the initial carnage for the first time, having they themselves evacuated. Some we talked to were reliving the experience over again. Everyone was reflective, tearful, not too many people were angry - just sad. A line from that Paul Simon song, "Mother and Child Reunion" played in my mind all day long, like a broken record... this sad and mournful day... that's really what it was today...
But we made some amazing portraits (we hope! with film, there's no way to know until we get it back from the lab, which we first have to find one that can get it back to us before we leave) and got some incredible audio.
First off, we met with Eileen Duke - whom some of you may remember as the woman in the "green photo" that ran in Time Magazine a year ago:
Well, we went to Eileen's house in Lakeview and she gave us an amazing story with more sound bites than we could ever possibly use, but it was a moving story, replete with twists and turns, her refusing to leave her dogs behind, a military group who were willing to take the dogs (Mabel and August), an unexpected meeting with Al Gore and his son and an almost relocation to Chattanooga, TN. Eileen is a great example of a New Orleansian, and she does a great job of explaining why folks down here are, in her own words, "different."
As we were wrapping up with Eileen (who, by the way, served us the best sweet tea I've ever had!!), the continuing saga of trying to hook up with Anderson Cooper to get his portrait/interview resumed. Chris and I decided while ago that since Cooper has continued to cover Katrina long after other news outlets succumbed to "Katrina fatigue," he was very much a part of this story. Cooper is this "god" in the animal rescue community because from the time he saw his first dog stranded on top of a car, he continued to do animal-related stories. No one else has done more (on tv) for the cause than Anderson Cooper... When Chris and I ran into him during Mardi Gras (we were floor-surfing in Chris' brother-in-law's hotel room on Bourbon Street at the same hotel as CNN's staff), Chris asked him if he would be willing to be photographed and he said yes. So when Chris started trying to nail it down this week, it involved a bunch of emails to his producer and PR contact. Last night all we had was that Cooper and his crew were in the lower 9th... so we drove around, shooting and feeding cats, waiting for the call giving us their exact location until it was too dark to shoot.
As of last night, we had a guarantee that we'd get him on the anniversary, which was quite a coup. As of this afternoon, we had a confirmation of 6:00 in St. Bernard's Parish. Then it was 7:00 in St. Bernard's, then it was 8:00 in their studio on Canal Street. Whatever works, right? Chris hangs up with the Producer, and then his phone rings and it's Cooper himself saying he had a cancellation and how's now? Um, sure, why not? So off we go to pick him up at his hotel. Really nice guy, btw. We go to the lower 9th, pick a spot and start making pictures...
Now, I gotta tell you, I was all about meeting Anderson Cooper. I loved his book (if you haven't read it, I highly recommend it), and think he has done a remarkable job of disregarding "Katrina fatigue." Once we had the confirmation that the shoot was going to happen, however, I realized I was going to have to interview him, and let's face it - I'm no correspondent, much less a journalist! But I figured, hey, he's always saying he's not a journalist and really, what did I have to do except stick the mike in his face? So, that's pretty much how it went...
His sound bite was great, and really concise, to the point, and heartfelt. I was done, when Chris asked him to sum up Katrina in a few sentences. And that threw him, because really, how can you? He was quiet for a long time, which was a pretty loud statement on its own. When he spoke, he summed it up pretty darn good.
We wrapped it up, thanked him profusely and dropped him off at this event downtown. Headed back to see the kitties, and then Deanna and I went to Juan's for drinks and burritos. Although I didn't have the tape recorder on and Chris didn't shoot her portrait, Deanna's story was really moving. Who am I kidding, I haven't heard one yet that wasn't moving! I really hope we get a publisher for this project so we can expand it to include everyone we meet. I think a collection of people's stories along with their portraits will end up being a historical text. And it breaks my heart that one year later, the details of her experience were as fresh in her memory as the color of the sky is in mine the morning of September 11, 2001.
In any case, I am grateful to everyone who has shared their story and hope that telling it was more cathartic than painful.