"They're trying to wash us away ..." was the most haunting refrain in Randy Newman's "Louisiana 1927," from his Louisiana-centric 1974 album, Good Old Boys — a lyric made all the more haunting by the hurricanes and floods of recent decades. Nowhere has the saga of the wholesale collapse of Louisiana's coast been more dramatic than in the tiny Chitimacha Native American community of Isle de Jean Charles on the lacy coastal fringes of Terrebonne Parish. Once a cozy fishing village on ground high enough to raise crops or graze cattle, it has all but vanished as ever-expanding networks of oil industry canals became pathways for saltwater to kill the trees and grasses that kept the land from eroding. As seen in historic WPA photographs, its inhabitants lived in ground-level huts with palmetto-thatch roofs under shady, moss-draped trees, but in these Melinda Rose photographs, made between 2005 and 2015, wooden camps on pilings appear amid the ruins of storm-ravaged former homes as skeletal as the dead trees that dot the landscape. For Rose, the tone is set by the young and the elderly in the stark, watery setting.
In Song and Dance Girl (pictured), a grinning, pixielike ingenue stands on a pier leading to a cabin on a desolate expanse that bears little resemblance to the lush, tree-shaded grasslands depicted in old photos, and only the timeless joys of childhood relieve the view of the storm and salt-scoured landscape. The role of the elderly in perpetuating cultural memory is seen in Lil Tune for the Wife as a courtly gentleman strums his guitar for his approving spouse. Jordan, the Road Home, is a headshot of a striking young woman framed by a long, thin road with expanses of water lapping at both sides. From Island Road, Approaching Storm is a minimalist view of a broad horizon darkened by looming turbulence roiling in the Gulf, a reminder of our sinking coast's fateful, and mostly man-made, vulnerabilities.