It’s undeniable that New Orleans is different than it was prior to Hurricane Katrina. Some neighborhoods, such as the Bywater, became more populated during the aftermath due to it being less affected by the storm. Now, nearly seven years later, gentrification is occurring rapidly. The area is architecturally abounding, considering its location near the upscale French Quarter. As property value is rising, so are the number of residents. New Orleans-based social documentary photographer Bryan Tarnowski was one of those newcomers when he moved to Bywater nearly two years ago.
Bryan says that even in his short time there, he’s witnessed substantial changes: condos being built, the opening of new coffee shops and restaurants, a 30 million dollar park development along the Mississippi and an influx of art galleries. His ongoing series, “Come Hell or Bywater” puts faces to the residents who have always called this place their home, and zeros on how they’re dealing with the evolving area, for better or worse. Bryan told us his take on the idea of gentrification:
“I believe gentrification and change is inherently both a positive and negative in a city, and for that reason I am hoping to start a conversation about what is happening in the Bywater, what is happening in New Orleans, and what is happening in cities around the world. If people don’t share their thoughts and concerns about what is going on in their community, then the negative effects of gentrification can more easily rear its head.”
The demographic shift is arguably the most noticeable change. According to the US Census in 2000, 61% of Bywater residents were Black or African American and 32.4% were White. In 2010, those numbers transformed as the percentage of White residents rose to 56.1% while Black or African American dropped to 33.1%. In what was once a low-income, high-crime rate area, the cost of living is climbing and drawing in more tourists.
Bryan, who grew up in Raleigh, NC, spends a lot of his time taking walks around the neighborhood approaching people in hopes of sparking conversation about the situation, and ideally getting the opportunity to take their portrait. This is essentially what he wants to accomplish with viewers, as well.
“If I can get people at least thinking about these issues, I think ultimately we can learn a lot about dynamics of a rebirth of a city (New Orleans), which then can be applied to any city experiencing a shift in economy, infrastructure, culture, or general growth or decline.”
Bryan considers these photographs the first phase of the project, and hopes to continue documenting the evolution for an indefinite amount of time. A rough edit of the project can be seen here, and keep up with his Bywater blog for updates.