August 29 marks the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina hitting the Crescent City.
As part of a celebration of New Orleans at the San Francisco Jazz Heritage Center, UCSC professors Lewis Watts (Art) and Eric Porter (American Studies) will reflect on the five years that have passed since Katrina, and discuss their in-progress book project, New Orleans Suite.
"New Orleans Suite is not merely a book about Katrina,” says Porter, author of the award-winning 2002 bookWhat is This Thing Called Jazz?
“We consider how the storm was both a transformative force and a vehicle that enabled longstanding processes to come into view.”
Porter notes that the focus on celebrating the value of New Orleans’ unique musical culture has sometimes drawn attention away from other pressing issues—such as the exploitation of musicians and other low-wage workers, or the conversion of public housing into mixed-use developments.
“We continue to see such contradictions as we contemplate the city's renewal five years after Katrina,” Porter observes.
“In many ways New Orleans is coming back. Young professionals are flocking to the city, which has seen something of a cultural renaissance over the past few years.”
“Yet approximately 100,000 people who lived in New Orleans before the storm remain displaced,” adds Porter. "And many--especially in the city's lower income areas--have to deal with a high crime rate, public schools of poor quality, joblessness, and unreasonable rents, as much housing remains blighted or vacant.”
The UCSC professors’ lecture/presentation will revolve around photographs that Watts has taken in Louisiana over the past two decades.
Watts has been working professionally as a photographer, archivist, and curator since 1974, focusing on communities in the neighborhoods of Oakland, Richmond and San Francisco.
He is co-author of the 2006 book, Harlem of the West: The San Francisco Fillmore Jazz Era, which features his restorations of salvaged photographs that portray musicians and patrons of the vibrant jazz scene in the Fillmore District during the 1940s and 50s.
Watts notes that he was supposed to do an artist-in-residency in New Orleans at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in 2005, but Katrina derailed that plan.
However, he did manage to get there six weeks later.
“At first, the damage was overwhelming and more extensive than any of the photos I’d seen,” Watts says. “I began taking photographs, but after a while, I had to stop, because I realized the missing ingredient was people; everyone had left the city.”
“Obviously Katrina is an important part of the story of New Orleans, but for me it is more of a frame of reference," adds Watts. "It’s really the people, the culture—both before and after Katrina—and the efforts at renewal, that draw me to photograph there.“
The lecture by UCSC professors Eric Porter and Lewis Watts will take place on Sunday, August 29, at 3 p.m. in the Media and Education Center of the Jazz Heritage Center in San Francisco (1320 Fillmore St. San Francisco) The event runs from 2 to 5 p.m., with music preceding the lecture, and a reception and music following. For more information, call (415) 255-7745.