Santa Cruz Good Times

Sunday
Sep 21st
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

After The Storm

ae1-1UCSC professor presents stirring images of New Orleans pre-and post-Hurricane Katrina

UC Santa Cruz art professor Lewis Watts was preparing for a trip to New Orleans, La. for an Artist-in-Residency program when Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005. Determined to reach the city, the renowned photographer and archivist went to Memphis, Tenn., rented a car and drove 400 miles into New Orleans, which was only accessible by vehicle. He arrived six weeks after the storm passed through New Orleans and immediately began taking pictures of the damage and residents.

The resulting collection, in addition to photographs he has taken during his many trips to the city since 1994, is on display at the Mary Porter Sesnon Art Gallery at UC Santa Cruz now through Nov. 21, as part of a free exhibit entitled “Lewis Watts: New Orleans Suite.” “This is a look at New Orleans with Katrina as a frame of reference,” says Watts.

He vividly remembers the day he arrived in the storm-ravaged city.

“The first thing that hit me was that the damage, the devastation, was much worse than any photographs,” he says. “I had been following the New York Times and different places, and a lot of the photography didn’t translate completely. For a very short while I thought, ‘Well maybe I won’t photograph.’ But I did.”

In fact, he put in 10-hour days photographing for two weeks straight, and then left the city with what he describes as “disaster fatigue.”

“Fortunately when I went, I had connections from friends to people in the artist community,” says Watts. That gave him access to places in the city that were normally off-limits to out-of-town photographers.

ae-2In the above photograph, currently on display at the Sesnon Gallery, UCSC art professor Lewis Watts captures some of the Mardi Gras Indians during a celebration in New Orleans.Most of his photos—presented in black and white—were taken in film and then digitized and printed on paper to give them the look of conventional photographs. One of his most striking images is of a house that was completely destroyed by storm.

“This was during the two weeks when I first got there and there were a lot of photographers skulking around …  and they were not acknowledging each other,” Watts says of the photo. “But I saw a guy doing a pastel (of the house) in the Lower Ninth Ward and I walked up to him …  and when we were talking, this woman came up and her father had built this house by hand.” Watts’ photo captures the pastel painting in progress and the woman in front of the remains of the house.

Not all of the photographs in Watts’ exhibition focus on the disaster, however. Happier times were captured during his other trips to the city, including one instance in 2007 when a friend in the local art community invited him to experience Mardi Gras with a tight-knit neighborhood that wouldn’t normally welcome tourists. There, he was able to immerse himself in the culture and document things like the Mardi Gras Indians.

“At a certain point during the late 19th century, African Americans were not allowed to mask in carnival … so they would dress as Indians basically to get around that, and also in tribute to the fact that a lot of escaped slaves were given refuge by the Indians,” Watts explains.

A photo he took of the Mardi Gras Indians, which is included in the Sesnon Gallery exhibition, also appeared in the opening credits for the first season of the HBO series Treme, which follows a group of New Orleans natives as they rebuild their lives after Hurricane Katrina.

In addition to his New Orleans collection, there is an adjoining room in the Sesnon Gallery filled with color photographs that Watts took on a recent trip to Cuba. He points out that there are historical similarities between Cuba and New Orleans, including colonial influence by both the French and the Spanish. In addition, in Cuba, Watts found the same sort of mixture of races and cultures that he has experienced in New Orleans.

Watts shares the fear expressed by many whom he has met in New Orleans that the culture which makes the city so unique is in danger of being lost. With his exhibition, he hopes to help preserve it.

“I was there last fall, and the one thing I noticed is it seemed to be the closest to pre-Katrina that I’ve seen. Some of the FEMA marks and the marks from the storm are really starting to disappear,” says Watts. “On some level people are happy about that, but on another level they say that now people are forgetting about New Orleans … (and that) there are a lot of people that left that didn’t come back.” 


Lewis Watts: New Orleans Suite’ is on display through Nov. 21, at the Mary Porter Sesnon Gallery at UC Santa Cruz, 1156 High St., Santa Cruz. No cover. The First Friday curator’s walk-through will take place at 2 p.m. on Nov. 2. A special weekend event featuring Cuban music by Flor de Caña will take place at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 4. For details, call the gallery at 459-3606 or visit art.ucsc.edu/galleries/sesnon/current.  Photos: Lewis Watts

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Catwalk on the Wild Side

Meet the artists and designers behind this year’s edition of FashionART, SantaCruz’s most outrageous fashion show

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Watch List

From Google to the government to data brokers, why your privacy is now a thing of the past

 

The Peace Equation

Sunday is the United Nations’ International Day of Peace, a global peace-building day when nations, leaders, governments, communities and individuals are invited to end conflict, cease hostilities, creat 24 hours of non-violence and promote goodwill. Monday is Autumn equinox as the Sun enters Libra (right relations with all of life). The Soul Year now begins. We work in the dark part of the year (Persephone underground) preparing for the new light of winter solstice. Tuesday to Wednesday is the Virgo new moon festival. We know two things about peace. “The absence of war does not signify peace.” And “Peace is an ongoing process.” In its peace-building emphasis, the UNIDP, through education, attempts to create a “culture of peace, understanding and tolerance”. Esoterically we are reminded of the peace equation: “Intentions for goodwill (and acting upon this intention) create right relations with all earth’s kingdoms which create (the ongoing process of) peace on earth.” At noon on Sunday, in all time zones, millions of participating groups will observe a moment of silence for peace on earth. Bells will ring, candles will be lit, and doves released as the New Group of World Servers recite the Great Invocation (humanity’s mantram of direction). To connect with others around the world see www.cultureofpeace.org    Let us join together with the mother (Virgo). Goodwill to all, let peace prevail on earth. The dove is the symbol for the day.
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Sweet Treats

Local cannabis bakers win award for cookies

 

What fashion trends do you want to see, or not see?

Santa Cruz  |  High School Guidance Counselor

 

Best of Santa Cruz County

The 2013 Santa Cruz County Readers' Poll and Critics’ Picks It’s our biggest issue of the year, and in it, your votes—more than 6,500 of them—determined the winners of The Best of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll. New to the long list of local restaurants, shops and other notables that captured your interest: Best Beer Selection, Best Locally Owned Business, Best Customer Service and Best Marijuana Dispensary. In the meantime, many readers were ever so chatty online about potential new categories. Some of the suggestions that stood out: Best Teen Program and Best Web Design/Designer. But what about: Dog Park, Church, Hotel, Local Farm, Therapist (I second that!) or Sports Bar—not to be confused with Bra. Our favorite suggestion: Best Act of Kindness—one reader noted Café Gratitude and the free meals it offered to the Santa Cruz Police Department in the aftermath of recent crimes. Perhaps some of these can be woven into next year’s ballot, so stay tuned. In the meantime, enjoy the following pages and take note of our Critics’ Picks, too, beginning on page 91. A big thanks for voting—and for reading—and an even bigger congratulations to all of the winners. Enjoy.  -Greg Archer, EditorBest of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll INDEX

 

Santa Clara Wine Trail

My memories of growing up in England include my mother pouring port after Sunday dinner—and sometimes a glass of sherry before dinner. My family didn’t drink much wine back then, but we certainly made up for it with the port and sherry.