Media Arts Faculty Member's Photo Exhibition Sheds Light on the Devastation and Recovery of New Orleans

Photographer John Woodin captured images before and after Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on the Gulf Coast

January 25, 2010

New Orleans native John Woodin, an adjunct associate professor in the Media Arts department at the University of the Arts, photographed the unique architecture of his hometown in August 2004. He returned one year later, just after Hurricane Katrina wrought devastation on the Delta, to shoot images of the same buildings – or more accurately, the remains of the buildings or the empty lots on which they once stood. He returns regularly to record images of New Orleans as its rebirth continues.

These striking images are on display at the exhibition "New Orleans, Before and After: Photographs by John Woodin," which documents the compelling details of the city's erosion and re-growth. The exhibition runs at Gershman Hall (401 S. Broad St., Philadelphia) at the University of the Arts through April 11.

A 25-year resident of New Orleans' Gentilly neighborhood (along the south shore of Lake Pontchartain), Woodin photographed the city in 2004 as part of an ongoing series of urban landscapes that explored the relationship between man and nature.

"I concentrated my efforts in lower and lower-middle income neighborhoods where the homes most accurately reflected the reality of life in New Orleans," said the graduate of the University of New Orleans. "What I found ranged from pristinely maintained Creole cottages to tiny shotgun houses slowly being demolished by neglect. The photos were made in a full frontal documentary style and in color. There, I documented a unique architecture slowly being demolished by poverty, neglect and weather."

Woodin had a solo show of his original set of images in January 2005 at the Pennsylvania College of Art and Design Gallery in Lancaster, Pa. Then Katrina hit and 80 percent of the city was plunged under water for weeks. What had previously been a slow and steady disintegration became in many cases rapid and complete. He returned to the Big Easy in October 2005, the day after the search for bodies was called off. He spent time with family and helped salvage belongings from their destroyed homes. He re-photographed many of the same locations, creating a series of "before" and "after" pictures. He also took hundreds of new images and continues to revisit the sites he has previously photographed to measure the changes that occur.

Woodin's images comprise the book City of Memory, New Orleans Before and After Katrina (University of Georgia Press), which is set to be released on February 15.

He has exhibited his work at the Allentown (Pa.) Museum, Lawrence Gallery (Rosemont [PA] College), Fort Mason Center (San Francisco) and University of Bratislava (Bratislava, Slovakia), and in Philadelphia at the University of the Arts, Tyler Gallery, Temple Gallery, Photo West Gallery and other venues. His work has appeared in U.S. and World Report, Ladies Home Journal, American Crafts and other publications. His photographs are in the collections of the Library of Congress, Philadelphia Museum of Art and National Museum of Art.

Above: 6021 Dauphine Street (2004, 2005, 2009)

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