Visiting Lower 9th
Book Design, Print
This book is a visual interpretation of a This American Life podcast episode about the Lower Ninth Ward ten years after Hurricane Katrina hit. I contrast survivor accounts from the podcast with travel reviews, photos, and maps from TripAdvisor to highlight the contrast in understanding of consequences.
This American Life is a weekly radio show and podcast produced by WBEZ and hosted by Ira Glass. In a special episode of the podcast, Ira Glass visits the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans ten years after the hurricane to talk to people living there.
The Lower 9th was hit the hardest during the hurricane yet it received the least amount of help. While most of New Orleans have recovered from the hurricane, the population of the Lower 9th Ward is less than half of what it used to be. Little of the infrastructure has been rebuilt, and the hurricane swept out the community that was home to many residents of the Lower 9th.
Surviving the hurricane and dealing with loss in its wake carved a deep divide between the people of the Lower 9th and the rest of the world. The podcast reveals an overwhelming feeling of loneliness as central to the common experience of these survivors.
While researching about Hurricane Katrina and the Lower 9th Ward, I came across a TripAdvisor page for the Lower 9th. Since Katrina, it has become a popular tourist attraction and pit stop for bus tours. A few reviews read with concern about the vile nature of having a TripAdvisor page for it, but more complained about “terrible roads” or thought “it’s worth a short visit, but wouldn’t go far out of my[their] way to see it.” People saw this as a chance to reflect on their privilege while denoting it as a "slum" or that it was dangerous to roam the streets alone. Few saw the Lower Ninth Ward through the lens of survivors and fewer bothered to engage with the people living there.
I saw a gap in understanding between the people who saw the Lower 9th as a travel destination and those who could hear the voices of the survivors. Because many can't see past the physical damage done to the Lower 9th, people have responded to the disaster in a way that has taken the inhabitants of the Lower 9th completely out of the equation. There's a big difference in perception between those visiting the Lower 9th Ward and those living there.
This book is constructed of two narratives beginning on opposite ends of the book. One side presents itself as a travel guide with information about Hurricane Katrina accompanied with photos of all that is expected in a travel guide, like reviews, photos, maps, and tours, all taken from TripAdvisor. They are then translated into a physical form that represents cheap pamphlets or survey forms, hastily filled out with handwritten reviews, a contact sheet, tour tickets, and a marked up map. They are photographed with survivor objects placed on top of them as a metaphor for how oblivious people who see the Lower 9th as a travel destination are, even when they are in contact with hurricane survivors. The other side of the book shows accounts of survivors of the Lower 9th. Although for the most part the survivor stories remain set in small text, some phrases are shown showing emphatically with type and color to juxtapose the travel information on the other side. The bright colors used throughout the book purposefully makes light of a dark subject. The choice of Lyon Text, a serif, for details about the Hurricane, gives physical damage of the hurricane a gravity not reflected in the use of Atlas for the body.
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