Growing up in the frigid confines of Endwell, N.Y., I strove to escape the endless winters and yearlong rain by seeing my regional library, in which I hunted out pictures books with pictures of warmer areas.
I remember being thrilled by means of a picture book that tracked the Mississippi River from its source in Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. Towards the conclusion of the publication was a picture of a flaming gas nicely climbing from tumultuous Gulf waters in twilight. To some Northern boy, viewing that photograph felt just like looking at a faraway, exotic property; at the upstate New York winter cool, I felt heated by the twilight colours, the haze.
Considering going to Louisiana from the early 2000s, I have recorded the scene of the Mississippi River’s final kilometers, in Plaquemines Parish, by Fort Jackson and Buras, all of the way down to Port Eads, the last outpost on the river delta, in which the muddy Mississippi matches the blue water from the Gulf of Mexico.
State Highway 23 terminates in the neighborhood of Venice, seven miles above Head of Passes, in which the river ends and divides into three moves that drain to the Gulf. Getting there is not simple. Any location downriver from Venice is accessible only by ship, necessitating a knowledgeable guide who will gauge the quickly changing marine and weather conditions.
There is peace and quietude at Plaquemines Parish, one of the citrus groves, oil refineries and the salty breeze. Communities continue to reconstruct despite a seemingly endless chain of floods and storms, amid a landscape that is constantly shifting.
On an unusually warm winter day in January 2005, I forced it into Pilottown, one nautical mile above Head of Passes. For almost 100 decades, and for the majority of the 20th century, Pilottown functioned as the house of the lake pilots that board freight ships and direct them to and from the mouth of the Mississippi River.
In its heyday, Pilottown proved to be a flourishing community of manuals, trappers and fishermen. From the time I made it , just three permanent residents stayed.
In August of the year, Hurricane Katrina delivered a 15-foot storm surge into Pilottown, ruining nearly every arrangement from the settlement. The Associated Branch Pilots, an institution whose pilots direct boats from the Gulf into Pilottown, decided to reconstruct upriver from Venice. The Crescent Port Pilots, whose pilots direct boats from Pilottown into New Orleans, remained in Pilottown, without a permanent residents returning. Just a couple of fishing camps are built there since the storm.
Port Eads, sitting in the conclusion of South Pass, 12 miles beneath Pilottown, was a bustling hotel in the late 1800s, along with the key business entry into the lake, made possible by jetties constructed at the mouth of the pass by James Buchanan Eads. The jetties sped up the water stream through the move, causing it to dig out its deep station. From the time I photographed Port Eads, it was a primitive, weather-beaten, last-chance marina, dotted with a couple of fishing camps. Its infrastructure appeared to be held together with duct tape and rope.
Lots of areas from the river delta I’ve revisited over recent years have since vanished, possibly due to their remoteness or because of storms. Frequently the sole traces are a couple of pilings sticking from their water, or even the decaying frame of a house long ago abandoned. Ghost cities like Olga, Oysterville and Burwood have their own evaporating stories. Together they constitute the fading background of Plaquemines Parish.
I had been residing full time along with my family in a camp at the Lake Catherine area of Orleans Parish when Hurricane Katrina hit. I recall thinking we would be gone possibly 3 times, and could come home to the camp following New Orleans survived a second near miss from a significant storm. Rather, Katrina took the camp and all inside, including most of my darkroom equipment and a little box of negatives from ancient in this undertaking.
Subsequently, it had been hard to prevent the endless ruin which lingered around me. However, I was determined to not convert my job into an ode to storm destruction. I recall being incensed at most of the affordable amounts of post-hurricane photos that suddenly seemed up on bookstore shelves and intruded on the privacy of certain people’s losses, pictures of destroyed interiors and lots of storm survivors sitting out their gutted houses. When shooting this undertaking, I tended rather to find amazing items which were still there regardless of the storm.
I visualized a number of the pictures within this group many years until I saw the real places. The opinion up South Pass from atop the Port Eads lighthouse was one that I had carried in my head for 10 or more years; I understood from maps a lighthouse was there, and when I could somehow reach it and scale it, I’d catch the view I desired. I eventually got my chance on a late April day in 2008. Standing atop the lighthouse, I was elated and hypnotized from the opinion, and half-certain I had been dreaming.
In the wake of this Deepwater Horizon petroleum spill from 2010, I had been lucky to acquire a string of missions for a coalition of conservation organizations known as the Gulf Restoration Network, flying into the river’s mouth and Chandeleur Islands to search for signs of this spill, which generated quite a few aerial photographs. Aerial photography can be tricky to pull off: the thick summer haze demands a darkening filter, and some other vulnerability under 1/800 contributes to blur on the floor. I asked the pilots to fly certain routes fitting perspectives I’d envisioned years earlier, considering maps in my home library. For technical pointers, I consulted the afterword of David King Gleason’s “Over New Orleans.”
In the end of 2012, I discovered two delta structures I had photographed over time — that the Associated Branch Pilot headquarters in Pilottown along with the”Happy End” Circle at Port Eads — had disappeared. The pilot home was torn down and hauled off following the pilots chose to relocate upriver at Venice, signaling the end of the age of pilotage. The Port Eads camp disappeared for unknown reasons, ruined by Hurricane Isaac at 2012 or just tore down to make way for another construction.
Each time I see the past miles of this river along with also the bird-foot delta, I find myself gently amazed from the stark, minimalist beauty; obscured from the background of those families that made their living in the”end of the world,” because it’s sometimes called; and soothed from the continuous, soft palate of wind from the tall roseau cane. Being there is like being at a fantasy I’ve carried with me because I was a teen.
Much was written concerning the slow disappearance of Louisiana’s coastal zone, however, my experience has demonstrated it to be an area of continuous change. Where some elderly communities have disappeared, other clusters of hunting and fishing camps have sprung up in new places, just to change when another storm moves through. There is a feeling of calmness in the conclusion of the lake — combined with a rich and interesting history, that has kept me again and again, for almost 20 decades.