The city of new Orleans is in ~ the center of a number of precarious tensions: Its meeting to history and conservation is offset by one eagerness to carry in new investment. Top top the other side the the unique value it areas on joy and celebration is a murder rate that top the charts. Perhaps most striking of these contradictions is a geographical one: new Orleans’ strategic position at the crux of the Mississippi River and also Lake Pontchartrain is what made it together an attractive location to resolve a city. However that likewise happens to situate that in a key — a depression of progressively subsiding land, slipping below sea level. It has been dubbed both impossible and also inevitable.

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To commemorate the city’s upcoming tricentennial in 2018, photographer Virginia Hanusik is documenting this last paradox in a collection of photos title “Impossible City.” new Orleans is not recognized for its subtlety, however the job is shoot in black and white, offering it a somber feeling that offers a welcome respite indigenous the flashy, vibrant images the so frequently represent the Crescent City.

“Images of brand-new Orleans are always so bright and loud and in her face,” Hanusik says. “I’m more interested in placing small details or ideas within the framework that hint at the more comprehensive theme in society and geography.”

Hanusik’s subtle composition shows the discrete nature of she content, too. Therefore often, she says, the very systems that room literally maintaining the city afloat room structures we never ever see. Hanusik is referring to the levees, canals and also pump houses, and locks throughout brand-new Orleans, many of which come to be subjects in her work.

“If you ever before see images of it, it’s because something went wrong,” she says.

While water infrastructure might not make for the many glamorous photos, it is what keeps the city in existence.


Where Bayou St. Man meets Lake Pontchartrain

Hanusik’s previous work chronicles the effect of land loss on Louisiana’s seaside communities. She states this arsenal is much more about new Orleans in specific — how a distinct sense of place is perpetuated through the relationship between the urban environment and its surroundings.

“They’re snapshots that demonstrate a minute in time: climate change, sea level increase but additionally being may be to keep a regional history,” she says.


Sunset from holy Cross levee

An artist v a background in architecture and also urban planning, Hanusik says her task is not just an initiative to commemorate the distinctive style of brand-new Orleans buildings. No one is the intended come only document alluring abandoned houses whose dramatic aesthetic have actually been caught before. Hanusik’s photos are more of a catalog, creating a holistic survey of the structure stock.

“I’m interested in what’s being renovated and restored,” she says, “and those not.” Hanusik hopes her photos will accumulate discussion about why, and also why not.


Jackson Avenue close to Irish Channel

As a result, countless of the photos have a quotidian feel; they’re no the ornate French 4 minutes 1 or Garden district mansions, and they’re no the abandoned dwellings covered in cat’s nippers vines. In she day job, Hanusik functions at a social innovation accelerator and many that the startups she works through are concentrated on water management. That’s just how she became interested in metropolitan water issues.

Hanusik is no the just one thinking about water. Simply last month new Orleans City board of directors voted to invest in an upgrade to the storm management system. The public-private Greater brand-new Orleans Water Plan, introduced in 2011, envisions a Dutch-inspired design that would help the city live through water rather of continually working versus it. Once flood maps were redrawn critical year, many areas were designated low-risk the previously had actually been compelled to buy costly insurance. Whether or not the threat is actually reduced in those places, or the city’s repetitive appeals to readjust the map were attempts to reduced high insurance costs they thought would discourage development, is another question. This and much more are the types of debates Hanusik wishes her photos evoke.


Raised home near Claiborne Avenue

Hanusik says any kind of images the opulence room attempts to place these structures in the crosshair that a volatile organic environment.

“I don’t want to use words absurd,” Hanusik says, laughing. “But it’s nearly absurd to think around the grandiosity the these dwellings … in the progressively vulnerable atmosphere that they live in.”


Wonderland House, imperial Street, Bywater

Hailing from brand-new York’s Hudson Valley, Hanusik claims she’s always been interested in topography together a way of perspective. She points come the “rusty rainbow,” a giant, arched stairway the leads up and also over the railroad tracks in the Bywater community to the city’s $30 million Crescent Park, running along the formerly unused Mississippi flow waterfront. Hanusik says she appreciates the rare opportunity to gain a see for an ext than simply its aesthetic.

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“I think the adjust of perspective,” she says, “is really advantageous in being able to have actually a feeling of identity in the city.”

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Nina Feldman is an elevation journalist concentrated on audio production. She functioned as a regular contributor to NPR member terminal WWNO in new Orleans and also as editor in ~ American Routes. Her work has also appeared top top Marketplace, Morning Edition and PRI's The World.