Friday, August 11, 2006


Eden, Nine Months On

Where are we now?

Too much to write all at once, so just the basics. My mom and little brother wintered in the love and care of the Bennett family, of Elizabeth and Kenny and Mr. Jack, and daughters Toni Marie and Kailie, and all the huge-hearted people in Swansboro, North Carolina. About four months ago my mom had to return to Pearlington in order to keep her job, which had been held for her through the Herculean efforts of her boss and friend Mr. Simpson.

That's not the only reason she had to return, though. As the rest of the country inevitably turned its eyes from the Gulf and its suffering, she felt more and more isolated each day. A lone little bottle of Katrina mud floating in a sea of tranquility. Misery truly does love company, and she felt the need to go back and blend into the misery and grinding survival of the Gulf, with people who truly knew what she was feeling, thankful for the salvation that was the Bennett family, and strengthened by the time she had had to recuperate and clear her mind.

Strengthened for the fight, she could join with her neighbors and family in rebuilding her homeland. Refusing to give in, refusing to surrender. So for the past four months she and my little brother have been living in a FEMA trailer on her property. It's not nearly as nice as the place the Bennett's donated, but it's good enough for more than 100,000 other survivors. Successive streams of volunteers have trickled through Pearlington, helping her and her neighbors in amazing ways, which I'll go into later.

And where have I been? Why I have neglected this story, even as so much happens, and so much need remains? I ask myself these things every day, and have only a jumble of half answers and excuses.

There hasn't been a single day since the storm hit that it hasn't been on my mind. Not a day goes by that I don't worry about my family, and my hometown, and its despairing future, and what I can do to insulate them from it.

I needed to focus on my career, to keep it on track, to make sure I have enough money to be counted in modern America. I knew I'd have a few months to do this while my family was safe in North Carolina, and hurricane season had yet to start. You saw those images one year ago just as I did. You saw poor people drowning in my poor city. You saw working class people having everything taken away in a single day, all along the Gulf. Each dollar I sweat for is one more chance at survival for my family. Each dollar I sweat for makes my family count a little more. How much is enough in this new America? I don't know. How much was enough in Gilded Age America? Because that's where we're headed, and I don't want us left behind again. So I've been hustling.

But it was more than that. I was overloaded. I felt like I couldn't do enough, there wasn't enough time in the day to show all of the pictures, and tell all of the stories. I'm a perfectionist, and if I can't do something justice I don't want to do it at all. I don't want to let it down, I don't want to sully its power. I feel like I couldn't do it all at once, and since I switched the comments into a moderated format to prevent increasing abuse from partisans, I felt like I didn't want to do it at all.

But I didn't quit. I continue to donate my photographs to aid organizations working in the Gulf. I continue to raise donations for relief. I applied for (and unfortunately did not get) a Soros Foundation grant to continue the documentation in the Gulf.

And I'm still not quitting. I'll be back down next week to photograph more, to help in the rebuilding, to donate my work to relief, and just to visit with my family. My heart is there, it's always been.

And always will be.


Anonymous said...

Glad to see you back and glad to hear things move forward. Not everyone has forgotten and your amazing photos won't let them.

TravelingMermaid said...

Clayton, so glad to have you back!
Please visit

If you can come, we would love to meet you. As I have said many times, you were an inspiration to my beginning my blog.

All my best to you and your family. Although I've lived in Nola 26 years, I'm a child of MS.

Mark Folse said...

Welcome back. I"m glad TM found this and gave you a shout out. Your contribution to the chronicle of Katrina has been missed.

If you're in the area at month's end, I wanted to call out to your attention a conference (New Orleans specific, true) but still perhaps of interest to you:

I wish I'd though of you before the panel was finalized, as you could have made a great contribution by talking about Pearlington. I invited (but haven't heard back from) the Sun_-Herald reporter behind the Eye of the Storm blog, and you would have made a great panel. Perhaps some other time.

Would you object if I put together a slideshow of some of your photographs to project during a break in the discussion as this event, from the online copies?

Drop me a note and let me know:

Laura said...

So glad to hear an update about you and your family. I'm a huge fan of your writing and your photographs and I'm looking forward to your next posts as you have time to create them.

Anonymous said...

I have looked for a new blog from you everyday. I got so emotional when I saw this today. My prayers have been with you and your family
since the very beginning of your story. Please continue to keep us informed as you can.

Anonymous said...

I kept checking back in the last few months, and I'm so happy to see you here again. I kept the link on my site open --it's important for people to read your stories that tell what happened better than anything else I've seen. Welcome back.

I was in New Orleans in April. Words just can't express it-- a big city where you only hear birdsong; but photos can.

Anonymous said...


sooo glad to see you back here. i checked at least once a week, and seeing your site pop up with a post from yesterday made my day today.
i am glad to hear that your mom and brother are doing okay, and working to try to make things better.
please post when you can, and please don't feel you need to make "excuses". those of us who are fans of your words and photographs are just happy you stopped in and hope to see/hear more soon.

take care!
lori in texas

Anonymous said...


I can't tell you how happy I am to see the Operation up and running again. I sent you a short e-mail in response to your message from the other day, but all that really needs to be said is good luck, and send all of our love to your Mom and brother. I'll be back down there as soon as I can, but in the meantime, I know we are all happy to see you venturing back down.

All the best,

Anonymous said...


It is good to see you are back! I have checked at least once a week, to see if you have posted! It is good to have you back!! I am looking forward to updates, about you and your family. Do what you can, when you can. You are amazing, and strong!!

Anonymous said...

Good to see you back and working for the people.

Anonymous said...


I'm glad to see your writing again, and that your family is getting by. Im here in houston, and the influx of Katrina survivors also barely getting by, is apparent.
I sent you email ages ago, I know your busy. I want to feature you and your story on my website in hopes of helping you and your family in any way possible.
Let me know, and take care.

Judy Thorne said...

happy you are still thinking about this area. thank you.

Nobody Special said...

You don't need a grant to do what you are already doing. Your page and photos are the documentary that we all have been hanging on to from the start. We all wish you the best and support you in your fight for your Mom, Brother, friends and family that have been affected by this event.

Stay focused, keep a stiff upper lip and don't worry about the nay sayers. Your work is not something to take lightly and what you have shared with us is just one part of the bigger picture.

If you need funds to do more work while on the road documenting, one thing I suggest is opening a PayPal account and setting it up for Donations on this blog and you main site. You will find that a $3.00 donation adds up quickly from your readers and it will most definately add to your ability to continue your Katrina documentation and photo journalism, as well as help your family.

One other thought before I go. Instead of needing a grant to document things and help others, start your own grass roots foundationa and get some of the readers and locals involved to start something new. A place for people to come to where there questions can be answered and directed to the help by others. You could even have your mom be one of the people to run it, with her first hand knowledge of the events, she will know what people need and are going through. For the people, by the people. Helping others get through what you already know they are going through.

Get that Donate button up and I will make my first post to your fight!

Anonymous said...

YOU didn't get a Soros Grant? What the ****? Those Soros asses are going to have sores on their asses. Pun intended. Robin Fletrcher, Denton, TX

Anonymous said...

You won't remember me, C.J., but I used to work at Robertson's Grocery over by the Old Town Inn and the Gay Youth Center. I'm Sarah, brown-haired, large eyes and thin lips. You came in once to get some film or batteries or something, long time ago. Just discovered your web site. You are so talented. Keep up the good work. We'll get the Big Easy back in shape someday. Can't depend on George W. or Uncle Sam to help, so it will have to be us Crescents. Sarah James (formerly of Slidell, currently in Lewisville, Tex.)

Judy Thorne said...

count me in!

TravelingMermaid said...

PayPal is a great idea!!! It's so easy and you have so many people who want to help! Do it!

Anonymous said...

Clayton...your story needs to be told....somewhere out there is another grant with your name written all over it...until then, thanks for sharing your story

Doug Bennett said...

As an old darkroom dog, a lover of good writing, and an ex-New Orleanian, Operation Eden was a daily stop for me. I'm so glad to see you back, and to hear some word of your family. We all selfishly hope that we'll see you around OE on a regular basis.

Not to shamelessly blogwhore, but I'm proud of this piece about the Mardi Gras Indians, and thought that others with connections to the area might enjoy it also.

Doug Bennett said...

I'm proud of this piece about the Mardi Gras Indians.

Crap! Bad link. Read about Big Chief Jake here.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for giving of yourself for your family and for all the other people struggling to re-establish themselves in their homes in the Gulf.

If you need music for any exhibition of your work, for your site or anything else, please let me know - I'm a songwriter who would love to contribute to the work you are doing. If you were so interested, a network could be created so that you could make a presentation/documentary without need of a grant. Please contact me if you have interest in this kind of idea.

Anonymous said...

So glad you are doing well. We missed you but what you gotta do. You are loved and we will not forget!