A number of the photographs in the book Letters From New Orleans are (or were) part of a planned project called “MLK Blvd.” You can see some of those pictures here. This was an idea that came about some years ago and then languished. Here is the explanation.
Sometime in the mid 1990s, I became interested in how many cities have a street named for Martin Luther King Jr., and how many of these MLK Blvds seemed to have an awful lot of abandoned property, scary-looking bars, and small groceries that accept food stamps. I though it would be interesting to do some sort of book, a photo book, on the subject of this “legacy.” In 2000 we moved to New Orleans, where I had many, many occasions to drive up and down the length of Martin Luther King, day and night. Just to give a sense of it: The business I found most intriguing was Project Food Store, which was just across the street from a housing project.
Anyway, by that time I had decided that it might be smarter to create a web site, and turn “MLK Blvd” into a sort of “open source” journalism project — interested parties could send in their own photos, or histories, or interviews, or documents. It could be open-ended. It would be a great thing for students of journalism or sociology or urban planning to participate in. I would be particularly excited if I could attract contributions from people who actually live on or near an MLK. Of course what I actually did about this was pretty much nothing. Except: I did take these photographs, in 2003.
Late that year we moved to Jersey City, and by chance I got wind of a showing of a documentary called MLK Boulevard, which later aired on the Times Discovery Channel. At the showing I also learned that a book was about to be published: Along Martin Luther King: Travels On Black America’s Main Street. This book, written by Jonathan Tilove and with many photographs by Michael Falco, evolved out of a series for Newhouse News Service, which had appeared in newspapers in 2002.
Obviously I felt at that point that my idea had lost some of its, you know, claims to originality.
I enjoyed the documentary, and the book as well. However, I remain attracted to the idea of something a little bit different, and ideally more collaborative. I don’t have, at this point, any specific agenda about shaping a particular meaning of MLK Blvds. Maybe my generalizations above are all wrong — certainly Tilove and Falco’s book (which says that there are 650 MLKs in the U.S.) suggests different points of view.
Now I have somewhat belatedly become familiar with Flickr, and decided upload a batch of my MLK Blvd photos from 2003. These are now part of a “group pool,” and anyone who has pictures — or wants to make pictures — of any MLK Boulevard, or Avenue, or Street, can contribute. I make no claim to being any kind of photographer, but to see the group, go here. Questions?