I knew I had a long drive ahead of me, so I left the house extra early. You know when you pass a Starbucks and they aren’t open yet – you’re out too early!
I had watched the late weather report and expected it to be a foggy morning. As my subject was in the water along the bank, I expected the fog to be a factor – a very good factor.
As I drove to the predetermined location, I couldn’t help but wonder if the idea and vision I had for this photograph was going to live up to what I was planning.
All along the drive, the fog seemed to streak towards me in waves. There would be periods where I couldn’t see anything, and then the fog would clear for a bit so I could get my bearings again. The only time this was unnerving was along the last stretch of the trip where I was on a two lane highway with fairly deep ditches on both sides. I remember wondering just how many unlucky drivers had ended up in this drop-offs!
There wasn’t too much time to think about that as I was nearing my location, time to get my thoughts in order.
In 2005 an event took place in our area that became a line of demarcation. Even today, memories are described as being before Katrina or after Katrina. Hurricane Katrina made the national and even the world news. The vast majority of news coverage revolved around the well known and popular city of New Orleans. The only problem with that is; the storm never actually hit New Orleans head-on. It only suffered a glancing blow and the eventual flooding of the city and all the drama that came with it was due to levees that failed to hold the water back, which is their only job.
There was little to no mention of St. Bernard Parish. Even now, you may be saying that you never heard of this part of our area. That’s no surprise as I don’t recall the news mentioning it at all. The problem is, St. Bernard Parish took a direct hit from the storm. Flood waters that were 8 to 12 feet tall filled the streets. The flood waters actually moved houses away from their original locations – I saw this for myself.
Homes were reduced to piles of junk which had been the home owners prized belongings. Sheetrock was gone exposing an open view to the attic and ceiling fans were bent down like wilted flowers. The scene was unimaginable.
The are I was quickly approaching was the small fishing area of ‘Hopedale’ and ‘Shell Beach’. Several boats, small to large littered the shallow waterways, some still tied to docks, even though they weren’t going anywhere.
However, my subject this day was a cross that had been placed 20 or so feet off shore. The cross accompanies a large memorial plaque that list the names of the 163 people from this area who we lost, killed by this monster storm.
The gravity of the memorial was in the forefront of my mind as I parked my car and started to gather the equipment I would use to capture what I hoped would be an image that would echo the mood of the subject. Imagine my surprise when I walked up to see 4 or 5 other photographers who were there for the same thing! I thought I was the only one crazy enough to get out this early!
While it was a warmer morning, that’s what creates the fog, it was still chilly at the water’s edge. I remember pulling my hood up over my head and just looking out into the darkness. The first light of the day hadn’t shown itself yet and, between the dark and the fog, it was difficult to know exactly where the cross actually was. With other photographers there, I needed to stake out my spot and be prepared to make the best of it. I fired off a few test shots to gauge the exposure setting I would be using, knowing full well that they would be changing quickly once the light entered the equation. Suddenly, the early, long, dark and foggy ride transformed from a kind of chore into a moment better than I could have hoped for. The first rays of light, diffused by the fog, gave off an orange appearance and the sky above the horizon turned almost purple. The water and the marsh usually visible was completely obscured by the fog. I fired off several images and, just as quickly as it appeared, the view completely changed. The fog started to burn off and, within just a couple of minutes, it was all over. Such a long build up to such a short payoff. However, this is one of my favorite images of all time. The meaning of the subject and the mood of the environment seemed to be in perfect harmony. I rode around the area for an hour or so shooting other photos, but none would match the almost magical feel of this particular photograph. Whenever I look at this image, I still hear the sound of the waves, I feel the gentle breeze moving the fog in a random pattern and the call of the pelicans looking for their first meal of the new day. Sunrise and sunset photos have become something of a cliche’, but there’s a reason that they are still so popular.
I hope you enjoy viewing this image as much as I enjoyed making it Even while the subject is a solemn one, there can still be joy in a successful capture and one that actually does match, and even exceeds, my vision!