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November 14, 2005

Art professor reflects on New Orleans after Katrina

Photo of New Orleans scene

Banana plants thrive in the midst of ruined buildings in New Orleans. The photo is one of many displayed recently by UCSC assistant professor of art Lewis Watts. (See more photos below)

By Scott Rappaport

This fall, UCSC assistant art professor Lewis Watts was scheduled to do an artist-in-residency at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans. Although Hurricane Katrina altered that plan, Watts was able to travel to New Orleans for 10 days in October to take photos of the aftermath of the disaster.

Last week, Watts gave a presentation titled "Ghosts in New Orleans" at the Society for Photographic Education Conference at San Jose State University, relating his experiences in New Orleans.

“The effects of the hurricane firsthand are much more intense then any pictures or video could show,” Watts noted. “With 80 percent of the population now gone, the city is filled with even more spirits then usual. What I had photographed in the past took on added significance as I observed the altered landscape and what was left behind.”

Watts has widely exhibited his photography of the "cultural landscape," primarily of the African American diaspora. Louisiana has been a prominent feature in his work over the years. 

“Like many photographers, I've always been attracted to the way Louisiana looks and feels, its unique culture, and its strong artistic tradition,” said Watts.

“Louisiana has a terrible environmental legacy that has most affected its poorest residents, and events after the hurricane underscored the racial and economic divide as well,” he added. “In Louisiana, like much of the South, the past is never very far below the surface in terms of race, economics, and aesthetics.”

Watts is coauthor of Harlem of the West: The San Francisco Fillmore Jazz Era, to be published by Chronicle Books later this month. He has curated a number of visual history public art projects--including a storefront installation on San Francisco’s Fillmore Street and historical markers detailing the social and economic effects of the World War II effort on the site of the Kaiser Shipyards in Richmond.

Scene outside housing project
This man was photographed outside the Cooper Housing Project in New Orleans.
Photo St. Roch's Chapel
St. Roch's Chapel, completed in 1876, was badly damaged by the hurricane.


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