In the dark days that followed Hurricane Katrina, returning residents were confronted with an overwhelming task. Many flooded houses needed to be gutted and renovated, and even those on the relatively elevated "sliver by the river" often needed roof repairs. The scale of the damage was daunting, but many home owners were aided by a small army of mostly Hispanic laborers, many undocumented, who gutted houses and replaced roofs, typically for less than others would have charged. For their trouble, many were short-changed by unscrupulous homeowners and shady contractors, who all too often got away with it. Although there are many good arguments against illegal immigration, the bottom line for south Louisiana is that these guys were lifesavers, scruffy angels of deliverance who received scant recognition for their role in helping to rebuild a city. This Invisibles exhibit of photographs by Abdul Aziz, Meryt Harding, Dennis Couvilion, Craig Morse, Leslie Parr, Mario Tama, Aoife Naughton and Wes Wallace was assembled by curator Jose Torres Tama as a gesture of thanks for their ubiquitous contributions.
Here we have an opportunity to observe the laborers more closely. What we see in Naughton and Wallace's Claiborne Avenue series are the wary expressions of men who wait on street corners, either for work or police harassment, whichever comes first. The look on the faces of some young hombres posed on flood ravaged carousel ponies in Craig Morse's Carousel of Democracy (pictured) is more ambiguous, or ironic, but Mario Tama's Migrant Day Laborer No. 4 reveals a swarthy young man holding up a snapshot of a baby he may never have even seen in person, but his beaming visage says all you need to know about hope. Torres Tama's contributions include photographs of Hispanic workers protesting the mysterious death of Jose Reyes, a Salvadoran who died while in custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). It was ICE's eighth such mysterious death recorded this year. — D. Eric Bookhardt
Los Invisibles: Latino Immigrants Who Rebuilt New Orleans
Through Sept. 4
Barrister's Gallery, 2331 St. Claude Ave., 710-2506; www.barristersgallery.com