I am a freelance journalist and New York is my home but New Orleans once was. I rode out Sandy (ironically) in New Orleans. I had been in Mississippi on a protracted reporting trip and went to New Orleans for a night to visit a dear friend Kristy.
When I arrived in New Orleans I realized Sandy was going to be much worse than I initially thought. Kristy lived through Katrina and we watched The Weather Channel projections go from bad to worse.
Unable to focus proper attention on my Mississippi project and grounded due to airport closings, I paced around Kristy's house, worried about my husband, friends and my city, New York.
NOLA to New York was conceived in Kristy's living room as we watched Weather Channel Jim in hip waders, waiting anxiously for the storm surge to hit Battery Park. We talked about various outreach projects that came about after Katrina. Some were photography oriented. When I lived in New Orleans in the 1990s I was a photo student at Tulane. I had also studied photography at Columbia College in Chicago. With my history as a photographer and a journalist, NOLA to New York made sense.
It was a bit selfish in a way; I had to do something to occupy my time and my mind that could make me feel better since I was helpless against what was being called a "Frankenstorm." But it became more than that, organically and largely without me. Media sites began blogging about NOLA to New York. I got calls from networks, bloggers and reporters. Then, as one outlet wrote, my project "went viral."
The initial 12 portraits I shot in New Orleans show Katrina survivors holding simple signs with their personal messages to New Yorkers. I want to be clear on one point though. I do not discount those people on the Gulf who were ruined by Katrina, nor the people in New Jersey and elsewhere hit by Sandy. I named the project NOLA to New York to honor two cities I call my own, two cities now connected by a particular kind of tragedy.
My husband and I went to Mastic Beach recently. Mastic is just one of the many communities on Long Island hit hard by Sandy. We met up with New Orleans Gives Back (NOGB) a group of Katrina survivors led by Jessica Cappielo. Cappielo is a native of Long Island now living in New Orleans. She and her friends loaded a truck full of supplies and drove all the way up to Mastic to distribute to the people. Jessica's parents, who live in Mastic just a stone's throw from the water, lost their entire first floor. It is now ripped down to the studs waiting to be rebuilt.
We delivered over 75 NOLA to New York packages Mastic Beach. A pop up show of my original project will live at the Mastic Beach Property Owners Association clubhouse so those who didn't get receive a packet can go there to see it. The people were so grateful -- grateful to Jess but to me as well. I was overwhelmed and humbled. I know photography is powerful, I know words can change the world but this project is so simple, I was surprised by the overwhelming warm and appreciative response from those amazing people.
So now, that is what this project has become: creating and delivering these little packets of NOLA to New York love (I don't know what else to call them) to people hit by Sandy.
After Thanksgiving, we will be taking NOLA to NY to devastated Staten Island. If you know anyone who would benefit from a packet -- please send me a note! And if you are a Katrina survivor who wants to take part with a photo and some words, contact me through the NOLA to New York Tumblr site here. I am also working with church and another journalist friend in New Dorp (Staten Island) to hang the "show" so it can be shared with everyone.
If you are a current or former resident of New Orleans that lived through the nightmare of Katrina and want to participate in NOLA to New York please write on a piece of paper what it is you would say to the people of New York if you could. Then take a picture like the ones seen here.
It is a small gesture, but hopefully hearing from people who have been through it will bring a brief moment of comfort. I am only doing another week of fundraising, then I go back to my normal life, back to Mississippi to finish the writing project I started; gotta finish a handful of other articles sidelined by NOLA to New York. But this experience has left me and so many others forever changed. We will continue to send packages as long as people ask for them, with love.
Follow Andy Kopsa on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@andykopsa