Yesterday, The Lens posted an interview with Kirsha Kaechele, the former New Orleans resident most likely to be tarred and feathered should she step back over parish lines. In short: Kaechele moved to New Orleans, bought five blighted St. Roch structures and converted them, post-Katrina, into art installations that received glowing write-ups in publications ranging from The New York Times to Art in America. She then moved to Tasmania and quit paying real estate taxes on her properties, which went from blighted to blighted-er, earning Kaechele a "demolition by neglect" citation from the city of New Orleans. She's faced a lot of heat from residents who view her story as a Fitzgeraldian* picaresque, one that has left the city worse for the wear.
I met Kaechele in March 2010, when I took these snapshots. I was looking for a place to shoot a fashion spread and a local designer suggested KKProjects. If it was good enough for New York Times Magazine, it was good enough for CUE. It was hard to get a read on Kaechele. Some days, she'd be sturdily attired in performance fleece jackets, helping clear one of her overgrown lots, and others, she'd be floating around in an anemone-like fur bolero. I got the impression that the renovated bakery wasn't her primary residence, that she divided her time between New Orleans, California and Europe. How anyone could live long-term in such austere surroundings, with no heat or AC, no kitchen except a sink and dorm-sized refrigerator, and no closets or dressers, I couldn't fathom.
There are some quotes in her interview that will give Kaechele's critics plenty of fuel for their vitriol:
Life is the medium I most often work in.
After I left home I lived primarily in the third world, so in many ways, St. Roch was the most natural choice.
The intention has always been for the houses to transition into green space. ... In fact, it was my intention that the demolition itself would be an art piece, a series of performances.
I can't say that these sentiments are without a kernel of truth. The blighted homes did inspire me, along with many other artists, and I still think the photos we shot there in 2010 are some of the best fashion images published in CUE. But I have the privilege of feeling this way because I don't have to live near these structures or deal with the ramifications of their decay. And now, neither does Kaechele.