Coming Back: New Orleans Resurgent, by Mario Tama

In the South, it’s common to hear folks divide their experiences into two categories: Before Katrina and After Katrina. For many across the Gulf Coast, life will never be the same.

To mark the five-year anniversary of the worst natural disaster in modern American history, Umbrage Editions has produced a poignant new photobook, Coming Back: New Orleans Resurgent (September 2010).

This book serves as a beautiful collection of 86 color photographs taken by award-winning Getty Images photographer Mario Tama. With an inspiring introduction by CNN anchor Anderson Cooper and an emotional essay by Tama, the book focuses on the wrath of Hurricane Katrina and the devastating aftermath in the months that followed.

In 2005, millions of Americans watched the horrific events unfold. We watched as the levees broke and the city filled with water. We watched as entire communities cried for help and red tape held back the willing. We watched a failed system in which too many rules and regulations replaced common sense. We watched as children and infants and mothers and grandparents were pulled into boats and buses and burial grounds. We watched lost and hungry animals (many of them human) prowl the ravaged streets in search of food and water and shelter. And then we turned off our television sets and went back to our day-to-day responsibilities as the city of New Orleans (and communities across the coast) cleaned up the mess.

Through it all, Tama shot photos.

He wasn’t alone in capturing the storm’s destruction, but as other photographers left the area, Tama remained to tell the rest of the story. With an artist’s eye and a humanitarian spirit, he managed to show the true strength of New Orleans and focus on the sparks of hope that remained in the rubble.

The result is an emotional journey through some of the most thought-provoking images of that period. Tama has given us peeks into a dark and devious world.

We see stranded survivors waiting in the Superdome, victims rescued by boats and helicopters, and coffins that have floated out of their above-ground crypts. Plus, sobering signs that read, “Any information leading to identity of coffins, contact Mike Mudge.” And a handwritten message: “9/04/05 STILL HERE WOMAN LEFT FRI. COOKING A POT OF DOG GUMBO.”

One of the most disturbing images might be the shot of Kailah Smith, a toddler who sleeps on a couch covered in mold inside her FEMA trailer. Others include close-up portraits of people who have lost their loved ones, their homes, and their way of life – the psychological scars revealed in each factual frame. 

But turn the page and you’ll find images of joy. A big, bold, laugh that seems to echo from the side-shot of Angela Perkins. A jubilant grin as girls jump rope using a phone cable. A mid-air flip by a street performer. And it’s easy to see that, despite indescribable loss, the people of New Orleans have found reasons for renewal.

It’s hard not to look again and again at the images of Second Line dances and street parades, Mardi Gras floats and silent prayers, housing projects and prostitutes, the American flag and the American spirit. But, the best thing about this book is its mission. 100% of Getty Image royalties from Coming Back: New Orleans Resurgent will benefit New Schools for New Orleans, a nonprofit organization at the heart of a remarkably successful effort to overhaul public education in a recovering city.

While it might have been nice to combine Tama’s work with the viewpoints of other photographers, his talent is certainly strong enough to stand alone.

In memory of those lost, in honor of those who remain, in hopes of a stronger tomorrow, take a look at Coming Back: New Orleans Resurgent, and help New Orleans’ school children today.


Mario Tama has captured powerful imagery from the most vital world events, including the earthquake in Haiti, conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, 9-11, and the funeral of Pope John Paul II. In addition to receiving numerous awards and honors, his Katrina photographs earned him the prestigious Cliff Edom’s New America Award at the NPPA Best of Photojournalism Awards.

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