Hurricane Katrina swept across the Gulf Coast on August 29, 2005, overwhelming levees, flooding homes and businesses, and displacing hundreds of thousands of residents. The following spring, Duke Magazine reported on an undergraduate documentary-studies class that traveled to New Orleans over spring break to assist in relief and rebuilding efforts, and at the same time, collect the stories of their fellow volunteers.
But having witnessed the storm's devastation and its lasting effects, staff members and visiting artists at the Center for Documentary Studies wanted to do more. In the wake of the hurricane, says Courtney Reid-Eaton, exhibitions director for CDS, "a gazillion photographers and writers descended on the Gulf Coast. We realized that wasn't necessarily appropriate for us to do."
Looking around the Triangle, they saw that many displaced Gulf Coast residents had yet to return home, if in fact they ever planned to. The CDS staff members realized that in fleeing their homes, these people had left behind not only their houses and livelihoods, but also family photographs, records, and heirlooms.
Cameras and microphones in hand, they began working on a project aimed at helping these new neighbors create new family histories. They visited families that had been displaced by the hurricane, taking photographs and recording their answers to questions such as, What is home to you now? What did you bring with you from your past? What did you have to let go of? What now fills that space?
It wasn't always easy, Eaton says. Many of the families they reached out to simply couldn't make the time to meet. "Some didn't have transportation. Some were out looking for jobs. Some were still negotiating whether or not they would be able to go back to New Orleans. They were all dealing with really gritty issues."
But CDS invited those who had time to a workshop with local artist Bryant Holsenbeck, who crafted one-of-a-kind covers for albums that were then filled with photographs and recollections and other stories.
The five albums they created are on display at CDS through January 7 in an exhibition called "Re-collecting Family Albums: Finding Home After Katrina."