The lower-income African-Americans of New Orleans and surrounding Louisiana never had it easy. Yet today they are in a headlong struggle to recapture the identity and spirit of their community which was all but washed away four years ago by Hurricane Katrina. Many can’t afford to return to the city while those who can face a dearth of jobs, an affordable housing crisis, schools in shambles, and a homeless population that has doubled. The sense of isolation is unmistakable in their disrupted neighborhoods, which often remain barely re-populated. Policies such as the demolition of public housing and the lack of rebuilding in strongholds such as the Lower Ninth Ward has left much of the African-American citizenry feeling abandoned. Racism undoubtedly plays a role. The rich and vibrant heritage of the community, which created the first American art form, jazz, remains threatened. Those who have returned face an uncertain fate yet are attempting to reclaim their lives and communities despite the odds. These images were taken from 2007-2009.

Mario Tama is a staff photographer for Getty Images based in New York City. He studied photojournalism at Rochester Institute of Technology where he graduated in 1993. He began shooting for the Journal newspaper in suburban Washington, D.C. before freelancing for The Washington Post and Agence France-Presse in Washington.

Mario joined Getty Images in 2001 and has since covered global events including September 11, the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, the funeral of Pope John Paul II, and Hurricane Katrina—before, during and after the storm. He has received numerous awards from Pictures of the Year International, NPPA’s Best of Photojournalism Competition and the White House News Photographers Association. In a featured podcast, Mario details the stories behind his powerful images of pre- and post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, as well as some of his other work.

His work on Baghdad’s orphans was exhibited at Visa Pour L’Image in France and his photographs from Hurricane Katrina were featured in National Geographic, Newsweek, and newspapers worldwide. In 2008, Mario won Cliff Edom’s New America Award for his work in New Orleans. He was also nominated in 2008 for an Emmy for Coney Island: An Uncertain Future, a multimedia piece featuring his still photographs of Coney Island.

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