After Katrina, Photographer Captures New Orleans' Spirit

In 2005, Getty Images photographer Mario Tama thought he was on his way to cover the Burning Man festival in Nevada when Hurricane Katrina started approaching the Gulf Coast. His editor redirected him to New Orleans, where he stayed throughout the storm, slowly building a deep connection with the city and its people.

  • Oblique Weaver, who lost four family members during Katrina, kneels in the Lower 9th Ward at the repaired levee wall that was breached in the storm's aftermath. Weaver was attending the Great Flood memorial ceremony and march Aug. 29, 2006, one year after the storm.
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    Oblique Weaver, who lost four family members during Katrina, kneels in the Lower 9th Ward at the repaired levee wall that was breached in the storm's aftermath. Weaver was attending the Great Flood memorial ceremony and march Aug. 29, 2006, one year after the storm.
    All photos by Mario Tama/Getty Images/Getty Images
  • B.W. Cooper housing project resident Leianne LaRoche holds niece Destiny Herbert, 2, as they jump rope using a phone cable in front of their apartment June 6, 2007, in New Orleans. Before Hurricane Katrina, B.W. Cooper held about 1,000 families and was the city's largest housing project, but in 2007 it was more than 80 percent empty.
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    B.W. Cooper housing project resident Leianne LaRoche holds niece Destiny Herbert, 2, as they jump rope using a phone cable in front of their apartment June 6, 2007, in New Orleans. Before Hurricane Katrina, B.W. Cooper held about 1,000 families and was the city's largest housing project, but in 2007 it was more than 80 percent empty.
    Mario Tama/Getty Images
  • Residents of the B.W. Cooper housing project are splashed with water during a memorial birthday party Aug. 25, 2007. The party was in honor of 12-year-old Keith Franklin, who was accidentally shot and killed by a 13-year-old friend less than three weeks beforehand. The party also honored Keith's surviving twin brother, Kent.
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    Residents of the B.W. Cooper housing project are splashed with water during a memorial birthday party Aug. 25, 2007. The party was in honor of 12-year-old Keith Franklin, who was accidentally shot and killed by a 13-year-old friend less than three weeks beforehand. The party also honored Keith's surviving twin brother, Kent.
    Mario Tama/Getty Images
  • Children play in the rain at the FEMA Diamond travel trailer park May 22, 2008, in Port Sulphur, La.
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    Children play in the rain at the FEMA Diamond travel trailer park May 22, 2008, in Port Sulphur, La.
    Mario Tama/Getty Images
  • Shelly Phillips holds niece Kimmore Barthelemy in the FEMA Diamond travel trailer park May 26, 2008, in Port Sulphur, La. Phillips lost her home and job in Hurricane Katrina and is raising four children.
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    Shelly Phillips holds niece Kimmore Barthelemy in the FEMA Diamond travel trailer park May 26, 2008, in Port Sulphur, La. Phillips lost her home and job in Hurricane Katrina and is raising four children.
    Mario Tama/Getty Images
  • Kailah Smith, 18 months, sleeps on a moldy couch caused by rain leaks in her parents' trailer in the FEMA Diamond trailer park just before the family moved to an apartment May 28, 2008, in Port Sulphur, La. Smith's parents had to hospitalize her four times with bronchitis since moving into the trailer, and say they are sure the trailer was to blame for her illnesses.
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    Kailah Smith, 18 months, sleeps on a moldy couch caused by rain leaks in her parents' trailer in the FEMA Diamond trailer park just before the family moved to an apartment May 28, 2008, in Port Sulphur, La. Smith's parents had to hospitalize her four times with bronchitis since moving into the trailer, and say they are sure the trailer was to blame for her illnesses.
    Mario Tama/Getty Images
  • Retired seamstress Rita Gillett, 63, sits in her damaged home in the Lower Ninth Ward, where she lives with her husband Hazzert, on Aug. 24, 2007. The couple still lived without electricity or gas because they hadn't been able to secure government assistance to pay for the repairs.
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    Retired seamstress Rita Gillett, 63, sits in her damaged home in the Lower Ninth Ward, where she lives with her husband Hazzert, on Aug. 24, 2007. The couple still lived without electricity or gas because they hadn't been able to secure government assistance to pay for the repairs.
    Mario Tama/Getty Images
  • Kirrione Jones stands outside John McDonogh High School after attending her prom June 1, 2007, in New Orleans. It was the first prom at the struggling inner-city school since Hurricane Katrina.
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    Kirrione Jones stands outside John McDonogh High School after attending her prom June 1, 2007, in New Orleans. It was the first prom at the struggling inner-city school since Hurricane Katrina.
    Mario Tama/Getty Images
  • Young boys participate in the Valley of Silent Men Social Aid and Pleasure Club second line parade Aug. 26, 2007, in New Orleans. The second line parade is a New Orleans African-American tradition whose numbers dwindled following Hurricane Katrina.
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    Young boys participate in the Valley of Silent Men Social Aid and Pleasure Club second line parade Aug. 26, 2007, in New Orleans. The second line parade is a New Orleans African-American tradition whose numbers dwindled following Hurricane Katrina.
    Mario Tama/Getty Images
  • Angel Price talks on her mobile phone with her daughters Brielle, 8, and Cache, 2, as the Original Big 7 Social Aid and Pleasure Club holds a traditional second line parade May 14, 2006, in New Orleans' 7th Ward. It was first time the parade had been held since Hurricane Katrina.
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    Angel Price talks on her mobile phone with her daughters Brielle, 8, and Cache, 2, as the Original Big 7 Social Aid and Pleasure Club holds a traditional second line parade May 14, 2006, in New Orleans' 7th Ward. It was first time the parade had been held since Hurricane Katrina.
    Mario Tama/Getty Images
  • Coronda Thompson holds her baby Toronn Thompson at the Original Big 7 Social Aid and Pleasure Club traditional second line parade in the 7th Ward on May 10, 2009. The tradition sprang from when African Americans formed brass marching bands and fraternal groups to perform elaborate "jazz funerals" for their associates.
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    Coronda Thompson holds her baby Toronn Thompson at the Original Big 7 Social Aid and Pleasure Club traditional second line parade in the 7th Ward on May 10, 2009. The tradition sprang from when African Americans formed brass marching bands and fraternal groups to perform elaborate "jazz funerals" for their associates.
    Mario Tama/Getty Images
  • Members of the Original Big 7 Social Aid and Pleasure Club hold a traditional second line parade in the 7th Ward on May 10, 2009.
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    Members of the Original Big 7 Social Aid and Pleasure Club hold a traditional second line parade in the 7th Ward on May 10, 2009.
    Mario Tama/Getty Images
  • Jillian Bordelon holds Josie Bates while attending the Thanksgiving Day horse races at the Fair Grounds Race Track on Nov. 26, 2009. Each year people don their Thanksgiving finest and watch the races in an old New Orleans tradition.
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    Jillian Bordelon holds Josie Bates while attending the Thanksgiving Day horse races at the Fair Grounds Race Track on Nov. 26, 2009. Each year people don their Thanksgiving finest and watch the races in an old New Orleans tradition.
    Mario Tama/Getty Images
  • Lauren and Jana, tourists from Utah, ride a streetcar May 15, 2009, in New Orleans.
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    Lauren and Jana, tourists from Utah, ride a streetcar May 15, 2009, in New Orleans.
    Mario Tama/Getty Images
  • Isabella Lander (left) and Arabella Christiansen climb on the 17th Street Canal levee May 29, 2008, in Metairie, La. Despite $22 million in repairs, the 17th Street Canal levee, which broke during Hurricane Katrina, is leaking. Experts fear the levee could fail again in another large storm.
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    Isabella Lander (left) and Arabella Christiansen climb on the 17th Street Canal levee May 29, 2008, in Metairie, La. Despite $22 million in repairs, the 17th Street Canal levee, which broke during Hurricane Katrina, is leaking. Experts fear the levee could fail again in another large storm.
    Mario Tama/Getty Images

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Tama documented the horror and destruction of New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina, making heartbreaking images of struggle and survival. But his coverage didn't end there. He returned to New Orleans more than 15 times in the past five years to show the rebounding spirit of the Crescent City. His images are now collected in a new book — Coming Back: New Orleans Resurgent.

"I had been in love with the city before the storm — it's so dynamic, and I felt a strong attachment to it. I kept asking myself, 'What's going to happen to these people?' I couldn't get it out of my head," Tama said.

So he kept going back. Back to the neighborhoods where he had experienced the storm. Back to the people he had made a connection with. Back to the city where he knew the people's spirit would slowly re-emerge.

Two girls are seen at a housing project in New Orleans in 2007. i i

Ronisha Mathis, left, and Tessua Phillips are seen at the B.W. Cooper housing project in New Orleans in 2007. Mario Tama/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Mario Tama/Getty Images
Two girls are seen at a housing project in New Orleans in 2007.

Ronisha Mathis, left, and Tessua Phillips are seen at the B.W. Cooper housing project in New Orleans in 2007.

Mario Tama/Getty Images

"A theme generally in my work, and throughout my career, even in the midst of the most dire circumstances, is that people still have hope,"Tama said. "I was looking to show some kind of light at the end of the tunnel."

While the book contains images from the immediate aftermath of the storm, its main focus is on the spirit and resilience of the residents. Images of joy, passion and the essence of New Orleans shine through.

Tama first experienced this resilience when he came upon a traditional second line parade nine months after the storm. There he found dancers, musicians and New Orleanians decked out in colorful regalia. "It was an incredibly beautiful procession through the once flooded street," Tama said. He knew then that the spirit of the city would return.

A second line parade in New Orleans, in 2009.

Members of the Original Big 7 Social and Pleasure Club hold a traditional second line parade in the Seventh Ward of New Orleans, in May 2009. Mario Tama/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Mario Tama/Getty Images

"Mario's pictures exude his passion, and his voice and spirit scream through his photographs," said book editor Lauren Steel, manager of photography for Reportage by Getty Images. The book is the first editorial book that Getty has produced based on the work of a current staff photographer.

Despite the joy conveyed in his images, Tama knows that New Orleans is still on the mend. "The spirit has returned, but the city is far from being recovered," he said. "There's a ton of work to be done, but the soul of New Orleans has definitely returned."

Tama's images can also be viewed at the Umbrage Gallery in Brooklyn through Sept. 14. All proceeds from the book will be donated to New Schools for New Orleans, a nonprofit dedicated to improving public schools.

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See more photojournalism from the immediate aftermath of Katrina on The Picture Show.

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