Ten years after Hurricane Katrina, photographer Kris Davidson photographed New Orleans—the strong, vibrant, and evolving city—for National Geographic Traveler magazine. Davidson, a New Orleans resident, shares her perspective on photographing a city changed by the storm.
As a frequent traveler based in New Orleans I am routinely cornered by well-intentioned folks with furrowed brows asking, “Has New Orleans recovered from Katrina?”
In a word: Yes. (That would be a loaded, nuanced “yes.”)
It is very humbling (and daunting) to be asked to photograph New Orleans ten years after Katrina. I could not have done this without my dear friend (and fellow New Orleanian) writer/editor/professor/generally amazing person Andrew Nelson, who wrote the story for National Geographic Traveler. Andrew is dialed into the city in a powerful way. His guidance was a relief as he sent me on a glorious treasure hunt focused on art, culture, and locally sourced epicurean deliciousness. I met delightful bohemians at every turn, thespians channeling Shakespeare under towering southern oaks, burlesque dancers in the wee hours under perfect red lights, and so many makers and artists, all creating beautiful, unique things. The new New Orleans is awash in a wave of creativity. Perhaps most memorable for me from this assignment: celebrating with the spirited revelers of Chewbacchus (a Star Wars–themed Mardi Gras krewe) as they kicked off their parade from the depths of a Katrina-dilapidated neighborhood in the Ninth Ward, dancing down streets lined with hurricane-abandoned houses, rooftops flowering with graceful yellow weeds.
New Orleanians are fully aware that things are not perfect—they’ll be the first to tell you what the problems are—but they are definitely not looking for any form of pitying, judging sympathy. They know they live on the edge. They know the seas are rising. Ask again about the state of affairs, and they’ll hand you a Sazerac, explaining gently that there is a cadence to this city that is intoxicatingly beautiful. If you were born here, that beauty courses through your blood. For newcomers, it takes a while to see, or rather feel it, but once you do, you’ll understand why people stay here on the edge of the sea, eye to eye with gulf currents, oil spills, and alligators.
New Orleans is a city that is alive, breathing, and singing. Southerners are the best storytellers in the world, so if you find yourself here in New Orleans, make sure to budget time to sit down with locals to hear a few stories. It will be the highlight of your trip. Life on the edge is different, sharper in a way. In New Orleans we diffuse that edge with a cocktail from time to time, but make no mistake: Moments in New Orleans might be a bit on the damp side, but they are lived deeply.
Read the full story on “The New New Orleans” >>
See more of Davidson’s pictures of New Orleans >>
Follow Kris Davidson on Instagram at @hellokrisdavidson.