Mr. Nathanael [#ThousandWorth]

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North Baton Rouge, LA. March 2017. [ Canon 6D. ]

What could be more fitting a start to this project than to feature one of the most resilient individuals I’ve ever met?

I only had the pleasure of knowing Mr. Nathanael for a few affecting hours, the day this photo was taken. At the time I found myself working with the heartfelt and hardworking members of Cajun Relief Foundation. The goal was to take high resolution photographs of flood victims, adequately realizing the enduring challenge victims continued to face using only the image. I needed to capture the essence of each individual, while raising awareness of their current living situation as a result of the Great Flood of August 2016, which devastated the greater Baton Rouge area.

(Cajun Relief used these respective photographs to crowdsource individual resources each family or individual uniquely needed. Some may have only needed something as simple as a kitchen table, others needing an entire roof.)

It was March 2017. The media had largely moved on. This had to go beyond simple documentation.

We’d just come off several intensive days of photography covering an emotional home tour across the street in a particularly flood ravaged North Baton Rouge neighborhood. There was a noticeable pause afterward. The volunteers needed a moment to process, but time was of the essence. We packed up, collected ourselves, and moved to the next house. Mr. Nathanael’s home.

The team crosses a street littered with debris. Molding pieces of drywall and furniture yet to be picked up by cleanup crews going on seven months since flooding. A man emerges from the house with noticeable pep in his step. The coordinator tells me, he’d been looking forward to meeting us all day.

Mr. Nathanael had never met a stranger. Despite the hardship, Mr. Nathanael invites us into his home, making sure to ask if we needed anything to eat or drink. I’m astounded by the energy and positivity this man put forth. All this despite the fact Mr. Nathanael’s home sustained over 6 feet of flooding, and had only just recently had his water turned back on. He still hadn’t gotten power back online, as the months drew closer to a scorching Louisiana summer. We learned he’d lived in this neighborhood near all his life, and that historically this was a non-flood area. (This was a story we heard time again doing these photographic tours. The flood was truly a force majeure.)

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We set up camera and before long continued our conversations. I snapped photos as Mr. Nathanael went room by room explaining what once was. The majority of the house had only recently dried out, with drywall, and exposed paneling still slated for repairs. Mr. Nathanael informs us he still looks forward to spending his retired days in his home.

Having a conversation rather than simply instructing staged poses is my preferred way to shoot these images. Documenting bleak devastation on repeat can desensitize if you don’t make the effort to connect the living, breathing, individuals to your surroundings. Plus the most authentic form of a soul often emerges after an hour of meaningful conversation.

An elegant mirror on the living room wall catches our reflection, so we ask about it. Mr. Nathanael informs us it’s one of his few possessions that wasn’t destroyed in the flood. Something about the way the mirror catches the setting sunlight in the dark flood ravaged home provides a small moment of serenity. I remember a pause. Everyone looking into the mirror for several seconds, as if it held an answer we couldn’t fathom.

We ask Mr. Nathanael if he considered leaving the home until it could be repaired, he slowly looks around then shakes his head. He tells us leaving would be too easy. Mr. Nathanael explains his faith and community keep him grounded here in Baton Rouge. And that he has to remain here for others like they’ve done before for him.

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During these brief encounters I often wondered how much the subjects of these photographs wanted to share but couldn’t across those fleeting moments. Often times it was what wasn’t said. A brief look, curt handshake, or lingering hug that was most vocalizing.

With natural disasters such as the Great Flood of 2016, when looked upon in retrospect we only see the destination, the news coverage, the headlines. Missing the forrest for the trees entirely. Mold was a recurring issue in these homes, as the humid Louisiana climate makes for a slow dry of formerly flooded wood and walls. It wasn’t until after the shoot when we left the property that we took off our 8210 N95 Industrial Respirators, masks the organization strongly encouraged we wear. Something hardly any of the subjects we met could wear 24/7, as these masks simply weren’t designed for full time use.

Long after the cameras left, and donations were successfully contributed I still find myself thinking about Mr. Nathanael. May we all be so lucky to find such remarkable faith and vigor.

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Editor’s Note: #ThousandWorth is a personal project by Evan Kidd celebrating unification of an age old cliche. Attempt to pair no more than 1000 words with any photograph or series of photos taken by Kidd. Contextualization given will vary, but a meaningful account of the image with the consciousness, form, and moment attached to it is always the ambition.