In the summer of 2015, I spent 10 weeks interning at the New Orleans Public Defender's Office as a client advocate. While the French Quarter naturally lends itself to a coloful, boozy style of street photography, my place of work showed me a side of the city that many outsiders do not get a chance to experience. For this series of images, I chose Kodak Tri-X 400 for its high contrast and pronounced grain. The subject matter was gritty, and I wanted the images to reflect that.
From the mostly white, suburban neighborhood of Uptown where I lived during my time in New Orleans, things looked like they were on the up-and-up. Reconstruction after Katrina was still apparent, but well-kept lawns and white picket fences were not at all unusual. Upon closer inspection, however, it became clear that my neighbors were clearly driven by fear. Fear of the harmful effects of drugs on their communities, perhpas not unfairly, and of the high crime rate the city is known for.
Fear, however, breeds judgement and apathy. The woman on the left, who would insist I call her Ms. Jenkins instead of ma'am (she wasn't that goddman old, I was reminded, only 42) would park her wheelchair in front of a busy Uptown CVS every day, asking strangers to buy her some Advil to ease the pain of heroin withdrawal. Most people wouldn't even look at her as she smiled at them. Is it any surprise, then, that when the sun rises in the Crescent City one finds empty beer cans instead of morning dew on the grass?
But it's easy to point fingers at others for judging. When I took the image on the left in the Lower Ninth Ward, a predominantly black neighborhood that is no stranger to police brutality, I assumed it was another unlawful arrest taking place. It was only once I saw the developed image several weeks later that I realized I just as easily could have captured a photo of a police officer returning home to his family. In a city where things are presented as black or white, judgement is easy. However, one's best qualities can be strengthened if compassion and empathy are allowed to trump prejudice. The pair of shoes above were located near the front entrance of a public library. Despite the strong smell emanating from them, the volunteer librarian on duty didn't scrunch up her nose and scowl. Instead, she looked at me and exclaimed that she hoped the barefoot soul who left them would come back soon. It was supposed to rain that night.