Crescent City Twilight | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian
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Crescent City Twilight

A photogrpaher takes a pinhole view of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, which struck a year ago this month.

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Much of New Orleans is bouncing back, its jazzy insouciance alive and well in some quarters, but a year after the most destructive natural disaster in U.S. history, the city also remains unsettled. About half of its population of 469,000 has yet to return home, 200,000 flood-wrecked residences are still uninhabitable, and National Guard troops arrived this past June to curb an outbreak of violent crime reportedly fostered by desolation.

Hurricane Katrina's emptying of the Crescent City is captured in this photograph by Timothy Hursley of a railroad yard along Press Street. The long line of relief trailers speaks to the enormousness of the human toll, and the bridges remind us of all the people stranded atop such spans as the waters rose. But it's the lurid twilight and ghoulish Mardi Gras dolls, especially the laughing girl with the fierce eyes, that make the image work.

Hursley, an architectural photographer based in Little Rock, took the picture this past March using an 80-year-old panorama camera with a pinhole opening instead of a lens. Pinhole photographs tend to have an unusual aura, which seems apt in this case. The picture has the nightmare-in-the-daytime atmosphere we recall from those scenes of desperate New Orleanians in the sun-washed days after the rains stopped and the winds died. It is, to say the least, unsettling.

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