Tulane alumnae’s photo project showcases hidden perspective of New Orleans

Adrienne Underwood, Senior Staff Reporter

While studies, reports and data attempt to speak for the population affected by homelessness in New Orleans, art emerges as a true facilitator, allowing them to present their perspective to a vast audience.

Heather Milton and Elisabeth Perez created the MyNew Orleans 2016 Photo Project in May of last year after they earned their master’s degrees from Tulane University’s Disaster Resilience Leadership Academy. After graduating, the two went through the Changemaker Institute at the Phyllis M. Taylor Center for Social Innovation and Design Thinking.

After hearing about the MyLondon photo project created by Cafe Art, Milton and Perez wanted to give voice to the voiceless people of New Orleans. Participants are loaned cameras and take pictures that depict “their” New Orleans, an experience that is uniquely different from that of the average New Orleans resident or visitor.

“The whole reason I live here is to work on these old houses.” participant R. ‘Freebird’ Dittmar, a house-restorationist who photographed primarily houses, said. “…it said my New Orleans, right? My New Orleans is the houses I built.”

Participant Theodore Hansen wakes up at 1 a.m. every day and says that he makes a point of avoiding areas that typically attract high levels of tourist activity. His New Orleans delves into the places that nobody thinks about, and his mission during the photo project was simply to shine a light on what many casual observers miss.

“I tried to get shots of what people see and maybe don’t pay attention to or what people take for granted,” Hansen said. “…even though I might look around sometimes, even though I may walk up and down the street a hundred times, I always see something new.”

The design of the program allows participants to express their perspectives in a way that make the public take notice.

Photos get shared on the MyNew Orleans Photo Project Instagram account and Facebook page, where a contest is being hosted to determine a winner of the project based on which photo accumulates the most likes. Voting is available until 5 p.m. on Thursday.

Some participants take more of an activist stance; Wilfred Slaughter photographed scenes juxtaposing the wealth of New Orleans with its community of people affected by homelessness.

“The city’s rebuilding the streets and some people are just left behind,” Slaughter said. “In the last picture, the guy was laying on the concrete in front of a place that houses homeless people. Now why you got a homeless place, and you got a guy laying in front of it? That’s crazy.”

Milton urges students to get involved with the homeless community in ways that extend past Tulane’s traditional concept of service. Often communication and engagement in things like MyNew Orleans Photo Project are more efficient modes of serving than just donating time or money.

“Service days are fine, go muck out a house in Baton Rouge,” Milton said. “But if you really want to impact someone you have to have a relationship with them.”

Though New Orleans’ community is affected by homelessness is large in number, active awareness of its struggles and presence can prove difficult for students that spend the majority of their time on campus or Uptown.

“We want them to see their perspective and learn from it and get a chance to meet people and talk to them and create that communication, instead of just passing them on the street with a sign,” Milton said.

The project aims to give a voice to people affected by homelessness through photography and to provide them with a platform on which to express their unique experiences of New Orleans.