Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Linda Novak, Katrina Survivor

Linda Novak, Ninth Ward of New Orleans, 2005

This is Linda, she's my friend. I made this photograph of her standing in the doorway of her flooded Ninth Ward home, on the first day we met, about a month after the levees broke. It was also the first day she had been able to get into her neighborhood to see what had happened to her life. I had been introduced to her by a mutual friend who was forced into exile by Katrina. I was stranded in the French Quarter, and Linda was staying a few blocks away, her only surviving belonging an old blue junker Ford that died at every stop sign, and the clothes on her back.

She, my girl and I snuck past the checkpoints in Linda's rumbling old car, and cruised through the dusty war zone streets of the Ninth Ward, to her house. You can see the water line on the curtains in the front door next to where she's standing. Her neighbor's car had floated to rest against her front security gate, and we had to break the transmission to push it out of the way for entrance. I helped her kick her door in, as much of her living room had floated up against it on the inside. She was shocked and elated to find out that her goldfish had survived the whole ordeal in his bowl in the corner, and was there to greet her when she came in.

I call her friend now because we bonded in the destruction. She let me in to her turmoil, her loss, her quiet dignity and strength. I saw her face what was left of her life with calm and determination, and we helped her move out what little she could salvage. And after a few hours we loaded up her junker, and I sat in the front seat cradling my camera, my girl in the backseat cradling the tough little goldfish, and we slowly rattled through the Ninth Ward, silent in the face of all the destruction, stopping when her car died, making photographs of the lonely landscape. We found our way to McKain Street that day, and it seemed so appropriate, that junker, a shiny rental car would have been from a different world. And Linda was there when I broke down, making this photograph of my grandma's shack, while my girl wrapped her arm around me and the whole world was silent.

And Linda was silent, too. She understood. Words were useless.


Anonymous said...

Clayton, your words and pictures once again expose the soul of the survivor spirit, what makes your "poor, proud people" so strong. Thank you.
A brief note to others: If you're looking to help or learn more about Clayton's little piece of the world and surrounding areas, go to this new blog: It's one small person's attempt to call in the cavalry to help Pearlington, et al recover.

Cie Cheesemeister said...

Check gads! Somehow seems as if the victims of this horror were being criminalized. Just my take on it.
Hurray for the goldfish!

Nobody Special said...

To me, Katrina is a modern day 9/11, except one thing. It only has the support from the people, and not the Federal or local government sectors.

I know, people will bash me for saying it, but it's quite evident that if we were under attack, we have no means of defending or evacuating the people for their protection.

We have no physical means or financial backing to rebuild.

Only the people. Only those in the thick of it and those trying to help have been able to get in there and make any kind of difference.

Once again, thank you Clayton for the eye opener. Showing us the real strength of the people affected by this tragedy.

I would hate to see what would happen if a coordinated strike against us came down in any similar fashion...not because of the fallout, but because I think the people of America would handle it more efficiently and more powerful than our local and federal government.

People praised Bush after 9/11, but it was the people of NY that stood together in the face of destruction and gave a big middle finger to terrorism and the people who did it.

It’s the Americans who are in Iraq and Afghanistan doing the real work.

What about the soldiers over seas who will come home to New Orleans and areas hit by Katrina. Where will they go? What kinds of things are in place to help them and protect them from the fallout once their time is up?

If you haven't seen the movie Jarhead yet, go and see it. From knowing people in the military, I can tell you, its pretty close to how these people are and what they become once they come home. The inability to cope with every day life after giving everything you have to just survive in the face of opposition.

It’s almost like the people affected by Katrina. They end up being changed forever. Jaded from the reality in front of them and with the only thing on their mind. Survival. By any means, even if it means insanity.

I hope you all get out of Katrina land with your memories in tact and it helps you to rebuild your lives and help the others around you....because you have helped us so much in these few weeks after Katrina.

You have given us new meaning for life and inspiration to strive for something better and to fight for what is right...

Anonymous said...

The pictures bring such hard honesty to thoses who are not stading in the mold and mudd trying to salvage their lives. A lesson it seems you have learned is that you can never have enough friends in this world. It is amzaing how something so horrible can bring people together, and give people something postive to focus on. To look around and know you are not the only one trying to recover, and in knowing that the only thing to do. Is to come together and use that to build strength. Stay strong, and keep up the awsome work!!!
Yay for the gold fish!!

Anonymous said...

Good for the goldfish..Stay Strong and continue your work,we will go to the city next week and take pictures for ourselves.The place is still a dead city.Population during daytime 150,000,but during nights 75,000 maybe.People leave due to some areas are not open still and the commuters from the northshore area.Population before the storm was between 450,000 and 500,000 residents. The policians are STILL being policians...SOS....
Cheryl of Slidell AKA Rachel's Cheryl

Anonymous said...

Thank you for continuing to show us the strength of Katrina's survivors. Yes, it's changed all of us in many ways; we're helping each other physically and emotionally every day. My drive across the Hwy. 11 bridge from Slidell into New Orleans is full of Katrina's remnants. The sunrises are beautiful each morning, but I miss seeing LIFE in N.O. east. They're still without electricity from south Slidell all the way up to the Folger's Coffee plant on Old Gentilly. It'll be a long time coming back, but NOLA and surrounding areas will live again. Thank you, Clayton for being there. And hooray for the goldfish!!!!

P.S.: The checkpoints were there to protect the empty homes right after the storm from people who didn't live in the areas. A little intimidating at first, but necessary, unfortunately.

amy7252 said...

I've been faithfully reading your blog for a while now. The pictures are just brilliant. Anyway, I wanted to write to say thanks for the bright note about the goldfish!! It filled me with hope for you. If you run into Linda, tell us where we can send goldfish food!

Anonymous said...

Hi Clayton & Linda,

and all new orleaneans. i now you've been living with this -through this - for ages now. i've only had my awareness heightened by watching 'After the levees broke' and i am heartbroken and incensed by the political indifference to your plight.

the most humble spirit is not ambivalent to the point of pacifism. it gets justifiably incensed at injustice. i'm so glad to see your spirit and dignity in tact. you're every one of you individually inspirational to all of us who have suffered loss and injustice. i hope this will be the biggest single influence in getting Bush out of office and someone with balls enough to care in.

my heart goes out to you all. i wish i could just come over and start shovelling and hammering, house by house but i am a poor man. i know many of you have suffered trauma and loss. apart from the sheer physicality of the disaster, there must be really tough emotional and mental difficulties coming to terms with your situation. please do not give up.

and Linda Novak - my heart melted when i clapped eyes on you, babe. you're the most beautiful woman i've ever seen.

but i will be thinking about ugly people there, too (he heh, there are none, no such thing, like old age).

i have suffered loss of everything and i MEAN everything, incuding myself and all those close to me. but i know, for those of you in despair, you may not see it yet but your spirit (not talking religious, just what you're made of, what makes you live) your spirit can survive. "the spirit of a man can put up with his malady, but as for a stricken spirit, who can bear it?"(proverb)

the strongest man can crumble. what you're experiencing may be hard for the most able person, man or woman, so how do you expect to cope? well, give yourselves a break. just do what you can and if you can't do anything, don't do anything until you can. don't beat yourself or anyone else up for the way you may feel. you have the same capability as anyone else, as the 'strongest' of them, but you'll be suppressed to a degree. if you feel like that, NO WONDER!

get angry but in the right way at the right things. don't hold back your language or your humour. sometimes it is right to look at the negative things in order to be possitive. how does the song go? "and the light at the end of the tunnel... WAS the light of an oncoming train."

if you're lost, keep searching. people have been through this before and you can survive and find your feet. you can become solid (even more solid from an experience like this) and gain happiness and contentment and satisfaction again. i know. you can.

i don't know how many years it will take. sometimes when something has taken so long to achieve then it disappears overnight, it feels like it will take the same amount of time to start over and get back to where you were at. you'll be surprised how quickly things can change. i wish i could comfort you and share our tears. there is something of the human spirit that reaches inside all of us, any of us, whether we're apart and never meet but especially when we meet. it can make us suspicious of someone or the same thing can melt us with just a genuine smile. listen to your feelings, they are not for nothing.

i can't advise, i'm just someone who has gone through a few different extremes. but what i DO know - and what you exhibit in every mood - is how awesomely powerful (even independant of any god) your spirit is. when you feel the weakest and overwhelmed, don't thrash it for not performing as usual- it's working its hardest at that point.

there is love in the world. i feel it for you and we don't know each other.

you can't buy spirit and it is powerful when shared. it is silently powerful when you have no idea what it is doing. it heals in many bizarre ways that cannot be fathomed. i was saved form suicide once by four jammie biscuits! it's true!

sometimes we have no idea where our happiness will appear from. those of you who have it inside, who share it, who have had it trampled on by the most heinous monsters like Bush and his machine, you know how strong it is, what it can withstand. i know that what has been displayed by New Orleaneans is NOT their propensity for crime (as was featured in the news footage) but the same spirit that celebrates life, love, equality, community and integrity.

i help both 'weak' people and so-called 'strong' to see how the human spirit deals with the most inhumane and seemingly impossible situations, psychologically, especially when it attacks itself. Katrina has gone and you've been assaulted on al sides, but you're still here. you think you can't deal with anything bigger than that? you will do and probably have been doing. heroes don't always think about what they put themselves through. they all say, 'anyone would have done the same, it was just a matter of doing what had to be done.' you're all doing that and you've been doing it before now. in a few years this episode will hopefully be a powerful influence and advertisement for humanity over capitalism. provided by YOU.

i say celebrate now. celebrate the people and things it has cost you. celbrate yourselves. i celebrate you. my best friends are coming over for a few snacks and to chill with a dvd on Friday. we'll raise a glass to you. every one of us, if we were there would love to just shovel shit for you.

i hope this brings you all closer for every future generation to be inspired by. for all people - especially the self-righteous and weak predatory bastards of western capitalism (this should shit them up, this is how weak capitalism really is) to see what really counts on this earth, on this soil. not the land or possession but the feintest human spirit and how precious and beautiful it is.

the same place where music comes from. no wonder there is so much of it there. the home of it. keep shining and don't give up.

love - Kendal. (Linda got a bloke, anyone?) C ya x