Clarence Williams was visiting relatives in New Orleans East when Hurricane Katrina hit, and he spent three days trapped in an attic with his family. His first-person account of the experience was published in the Miami Herald alongside his photographs.
Williams explains the ongoing photographic project that has emerged since then:
I am documenting the modern, real-life blues story that Hurricane Katrina thrust upon the world's consciousness. My photo essay spans from the heartbreaking beginning to the rebuilding of New Orleans, with a visual emphasis on the remnants of the cultural wealth and incredible family ties that make this city unique. Witnessing a scene that most didn't think was possible in the United States—where bodies littered the streets, some in trash bags—the world shared a collective gasp of disbelief at the government's inaction.
"How could this happen?"
The question is no longer important. It did happen. For many of us, the answer is clear and disheartening. Simply put, Black folk are not fully vested citizens of this country and there is little value in Black lives. To this day almost two years later, I'm still insulted by our description as refugees. I thought I was an American.
I didn't realize it at the time, but with my first frame my project had begun. After spending three nightmarish, mind-bending days trapped in an attic and on a roof surrounded by brackish water—in New Orleans East, with my uncle, his girlfriend, and her 80-year-old mother—I did a first-person piece that ran in the Miami Herald; it was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
My work is continuing. It has become my primary professional focus, and I have made the city my home base indefinitely. New Orleans is one of the world's great cities and had a population that was 85% African American before Katrina. Amid discussions of rebuilding, there seems to be endless rhetoric about it becoming a better, stronger, progressive city with good schools. But the implication is that this will not involve many who once called the city home—an unconscionable notion. My work deals with the continuing issues of racism, classism, and poverty that Katrina further unearthed.