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Gilbert Mercier: The Cause
By Ron Steinman

Everyday it seems there are new revelations about Hurricane Katrina. Some are about before the hurricane hit. Others concern the hurricane itself. Still more tell us about the aftermath, or what is currently going on. They all have one thing in common -- what they tell us is usually not filled with hope.

Coverage of New Orleans varies from day to day. If a tornado hits, as it did recently, coverage goes up. If people are outraged over a dumb remark by a politician or if they feel they are not getting a fair chance about reconstruction or resettlement, coverage increases, but only for the moment. Major newspapers do have regular coverage. Major TV’s coverage is erratic. Without a scientific survey, I feel certain that local TV and local newspapers hardly cover New Orleans at all. I fear nothing short of another tragedy – look to the coming hurricane season starting in June that will be on us before we know it – will bring the plight of that once great city back into focus.

The effects of Hurricane Katrina linger as if a suppurating sore that will not heal. I sense it will be this way for some time to come. A pervasive feeling of hopelessness hangs over everything to do with the reconstruction of New Orleans. Into this mix comes Gilbert Mercier, a filmmaker and photographer on a mission, who usually divides his time between Los Angeles and New Orleans, where he has a home in the Uptown/Garden district, a zone, he says that is “known to be a low risk for flooding.” Nevertheless, when he learned that Hurricane Katrina was bearing down on his city, he “instructed his tenants to evacuate two days before the official evacuation orders.” He says, “A friend of mine boarded the house, not a big deal considering I had plywood pieces for each door and window from last year. Putting up plywood in New Orleans is an event that occurred almost every year.”

Mercier has worked as an art director, production designer, film producer and freelance photographer. Now, because of the love he has for his city, he brings his range of talents to a cause close to his heart, the reconstruction of New Orleans. Gilbert Mercier will donate 20 percent of the proceeds from any sales of his prints of the damaged city to Habitat for Humanity, who says they can build a home for $50,000, not a bad price considering how slowly the rebuilding effort is going in the Queen City. He asks also that visitors to the site, perhaps, if they can, donate to www.habitatforhumanity.com.

Take a minute to visit his site at www.mercyphotography.com where you will find four galleries of his photos, some of which I include in this piece. Gilbert Mercier shot these photos using a Contax G1 and Kodachrome (64 and 200 ASA) on transparency stock. The prints are what Mercier describes as “archival museum quality type C photographic prints printed with a light jet type C printer.”

As you look at these photos, only a small part of his larger portfolio, consider again his premise. Mercier says, “We want to show the truth; how little the Bush administration is doing for New Orleans. Life is very hard in the ‘Big Easy.’ We will not let America forget about New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.” It is a laudable goal, but one that, for now, he does not have to work hard to attain. As long as there are daily revelations about the failure of the federal, the state and local governments, and as long as many from New Orleans are still displaced and scattered over the country, the once proud city will remain in our consciousness.

View the photos he made over his two trips to his home city. They represent his personal effort to help keep in our consciousness the effects of Katrina. Gilbert Mercier’s photos are very good and most have a political tinge. I especially like his juxtaposition of picture and in many cases, the words slashed on walls by people suddenly disenfranchised by forces beyond their control who wrote them in quiet desperation. His execution is unique and his Web site, with many more photos than I use here, along with his desire to help his city through Habitats for Humanity, helps to establish his as one more voice in the wilderness crying for help.

At NBC News for 35 years, Ron Steinman was bureau chief in Saigon, Hong Kong and London, was a senior producer on Today and wrote and produced for Sunday Today. At ABC News Productions, he produced and wrote documentaries for A&E, TLC, Discovery, Lifetime and the History Channel. He has a Peabody, a National Headliner award, a National Press Club award, a International Documentary Festival Gold Camera Award, two American Women in Radio & Television awards and has been nominated for five Emmy's. He is a partner in Douglas/Steinman Productions, whose latest documentary, "Luboml: My Heart Remembers," aired on PBS' WLIW/21 and the History Channel in Israel, April 29, 2003. He is the author of, "The Soldiers 'Story", "Women in Vietnam," and most recently, "Inside Television's First War: A Saigon  Journal," University of Missouri Press, 2002.


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