When hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans Enna and I sat on our couch in awe watching the news. We were a new photography studio, had a baby on the way, and wanted to do more than just call in a donation. As we watched the news we saw an interview with a lady in her 50's who brought the camera crew into her home. The house was destroyed. The water had receded, and she was trying to put into words her loss. She then stopped, slowly leaned over and lifted the family photo album off the soaking wet floor. Water dripped from the album and she open it to see the damage. She broke down in tears and could not continue with the interview. It hit home with Enna and I. As photographers we understand the unique power images hold to instantly evoke memories and emotions.
So as we sat there watching the news we started talking about what was important to us. The tv, the computer, the furniture can all be easily replaced, but trying to replace photos is hard. Now with digital tech we can store files in multiple locations, but people lost negatives and prints. We then saw a local report of families being flown into the Otis Airforce base to live. Enna and I realized that we could offer to make new family portraits for them and help them rebuild their family heirlooms. We worked hard to try to get a portrait day organized on the base, but had no luck. We contacted our local photo lab, Ultra Color, and they agreed to donate 3 units (8x10's) to each family we photographed. Calumet Cambridge donated rental gear. Then we lucked out, Marta Fodor, a good friend of mine, was working as a photographer for Mayor Menino's office. She put us in contact with the right people and next thing we knew we were at holiday parties and town meetings for the evacuees with lights and a backdrop making new portraits for these families. We went to several events and photographed well over a hundred families. We heard stories of families separated, living in cars, living from motel to motel, hoping to find a place to settle down and get their children back in school. We made friends for life with some of these families and have kept in touch with them.
Just a little while ago we receive an email from a mom who had reunited with her family. She and her husband had to split up, each taking some of the kids, until they were able to find a home and work. I photographed the mom with her son 2 years ago. They now live just 20 minutes from Boston and are all together and doing well. I drove to visit them and made family portraits. It was great to see them all together and doing well.
Enna and I called our project "Operation Heirloom" and it meant so much to us to be able to do this. Here is a shot of the kids of the Thomas family happy to be together.