Behind “Before During After”

“Living in the Netherlands, but being from New Orleans, Before During After was born from a yearning to stay in touch with my hometown and be part of the process of its rebirth,” confesses photographer and Before During After (UNO Press) editor, Elizabeth Kleinveld. The book is a photographic response to Hurricane Katrina, and it will be the subject of a panel discussion with Kleinveld, some of the photographers, and John Biguenet, who wrote the Foreword and Afterword Wednesday from 6-8 p.m. at the Contemporary Arts Center.

Kleinveld was a freelance journalist and painter before the storm, but after returning to New Orleans from the Netherlands, she felt compelled to pick up a camera and has not put it down since.

“We were on vacation in New Orleans when Katrina started making its way, so we evacuated to El Dorado, Arkansas,” Kleinveld says. “While we were there, I had a terrible case of writer’s block. I spent the time there trying to locate my Uncle Jack, who had chosen to stay behind. He was rescued by Tommy Staub, and the Before During After project is dedicated to these two men.”

After returning to the Netherlands, Kleinveld wrote a few articles for The Amsterdam Weekly, but because of her uncle’s misfortunes, she constantly made trips back to New Orleans to take care of him. “I think I was home between 5-6 times from the time Katrina hit until the end of 2006,” says Kleinveld.

“The first time I came back, at the end of October, I saw blue tarp everywhere as the plane descended. The next day, I went out and bought a digital camera. I suppose I wanted to bear witness — it was just a kind of instinct, like I had to document it. Each time I returned, I became more obsessed with documenting the destruction as it seemed like nothing was happening and we weren’t getting enough support. I was angry and wanted to show that something needed to be done. In fact, you could say it turned into a kind of political activism.”

Creating Before During After became the positive outlet she needed to release the anger and tension she felt. With the help of Tom Varisco, who collaborated with her on this project, Kleinveld reached out to a very talented group of writers including John Biguenet, Steven Maklansky, and Dr. Tony D. Lewis; art historians; and 12 Louisiana photographers to create this book.

We have seen several books filled to the brim with images of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Before During After presents the work of photographers Eric Julian, Elizabeth Kleinveld, Rowan Metzner, David Rae Morris, Tom Neff, Sam Portera, Frank Relle, Jen Shaw, Mark Sindler, Zack Smith, Jonathan Traviesa, and Lori Waselchuk, all of whom present less common images from life before Katrina and in its aftermath.

“As 2006 was coming to a close, I needed to move past the devastation as it was wearing me down,” she says. “I went to one of the art fairs in the Netherlands and saw some work that inspired me to create the flower reflections series. Working on this series healed my creative spirit and reconnected me to the beauty and wonder around me.”

Five years in the wake of the storm that has not only changed New Orleans forever, but America as well, Before During After forces the reader and the artists involved to reflect. How has Katrina affected our lives? In 2010, should we still be discussing Hurricane Katrina? Are some of us still stuck in disaster? Is Before During After relevant or even necessary?

“I hope Before During After will enable people to ask the question, ‘In what ways have I transformed since Katrina?’” says Kleinveld. “And in some small way, I hope it will be a kind of catharsis for the reader and help them to move on as we commemorate the fifth year since the storm.”