Keith and Chandra
Keith and Chandra
Keith and Chandra
RebuildingHistoryWorkKeith and ChandraKeith and Chandra

Owner: Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick Calhoun


Project partners:

Architecture for Humanity
House by House
Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans
Shelter Architecture


[Calhoun Photography Studio]

When Hurricane Katrina swept across the Gulf Coast in August 2005 and caused New Orleans’ levees to breach, many people lost more than their homes. Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick Calhoun were among them. For years the couple had chronicled the everyday life of New Orlean’s Lower Ninth Ward from their storefront photography studio and home on the corner of Chartres and Flood streets, part of the Holy Cross neighborhood, a historic landmark district wedged between the Mississippi River levees and the Industrial Canal. Over the years the studio had become not only a gathering space and local landmark, but also a repository for images of a vanishing way of life.  When Hurricane Katrina destroyed the building, it washed away more than two-thirds of the couple’s life’s work. 

 In the aftermath of the storm Keith and Chandra salvaged what they could of their historic home and studio. Many of the couples negatives survived the flooding, a testament to the vibrancy of a neighborhood and its culture. Now Architecture for Humanity, House by House, the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans Shelter Architecture and many others are helping Keith and Chandra to rebuild. Join us and help bring the historic Lower Nine back to life.

[Keith and Chandra]

 Mr. Calhoun, 51, and Ms. McCormick, 48 both photographers who grew up in New Orleans Lower Ninth Ward, have documented its pleasure clubs and bluesman, its dockworkers and its churchgoers for more than a quarter of a century. Their work has been exhibited at the Aperture gallery in New York City, in the Smithsonian and in the Brooklyn Museum and was featured in the landmark compilation Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers, 1840 to the Present by Deborah Willis. Exiled from their home, they are currently living in Texas with their two children.

Read a recent article in the New York Times on Keith and Chandra and their work.
Keepers of the Culture, By Deborah Sontag Feb 9, 2006

[Their Work]

"Grand Marshall Lady Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club," 1993.

"The Original ReBirth Brass Band, New Orleans," 1990.

Junior's Bar in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans.

A prison cell block at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola.

Priestesses at Mother Washington's Spiritual Church.

The original storefront circa 1953.


The Holy Cross neighborhood is a portion of the Lower Ninth Ward, wedged between the levees of the Industrial Canal and the Mississippi River and stretching as far as the St. Bernard Parish line and as wide as St. Claude Avenue. Early 19th century maps show that there were several plantations in the area. Sugar was the dominant crop. Truck gardening and other farming activities were common, supported by easy access to and transportation of crops to the river. Restaurants and open markets in New Orleans, including the French Market, obtained fresh produce from the small truck farms in the area.

The farms were major sources of employment for those who lived in the Lower Ninth Ward. However, little statistical information is available as to the status of the African American population. Therefore, it is unknown how many may have been working the land as enslaved Africans, owned land or employed as free people of color.

In the late 1800s, poor African Americans and immigrant laborers from Ireland, Germany and Italy desperate for homes but unable to afford housing in other areas of the city risked flooding and disease to move in Holy Cross. In the 1870s, several African American benevolent associations and mutual-aid societies organized to assist scores of struggling freedmen into the area.

The Holy Cross population grew substantially following the early 1800s. In 1859, the Brothers of the Holy Cross purchased the Reynes plantation and established educational programs for boys, including orphans. After changes in focus and names, Holy Cross High School has been a stable force in the community.
As the population increased, neighborhood commercial entities, such as corner stores, sprang up as well. With the exception of the truck farms, which later became more modern ranch homes and apartment houses, most residential development in Holy Cross was complete by the late 1800s.

In 1912, the levee along the Mississippi River was constructed to prevent problems due to land erosion. Another significant physical change in the district was the construction of the Industrial Canal by the Port of New Orleans in 1923 to provide navigation between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain. In 1965, Hurricane Betsy flooded the 9th ward. Although the damage in Holy Cross was not as great as the rest of the area due to its higher elevation, residents struggled to revitalize the neighborhood. Holy Cross suffered many years of slow decline. By the 1990's, however, things were looking up as reinvestment in the community reduced blight and led to higher rates of homeownership in the area.

In 1986 the historic fabric of the neighborhood was recognized and it was listed on the National Register. In 1990 it was given a Local Historic District designation.

Debris fills the lot where the Calhoun Photography
studio once stood.



The destroyed residence and studio of Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick was located in a two story building at the intersection of Flood and Chatres in the Historic Holy Cross neighborhood of New Orleans. The building, which dated from the turn of the century, included many vernacular details such as the sidewalk shed and cedar beams. Unfortuantely many of these details were lost in the aftermath of the storm, in particular the buildings beams, which were taken from the site after having been salvaged from the building debris.

Programmatic Elements (preliminary)

Level One: Storefront, Indoor/Outdoor Gallery, Circulation           

The ground level will be restored, in form and appearance, to the original storefront façade.  Glass, as in the original, will be omitted or designed to be removable to accommodate the flow of water through the building.  The ground level will be unconditioned space and all materials and finishes below an agreed height will be flood resistant.  All structural elements on this level will be flood proof.  Accessible circulation will be provided from the street to the second level.

Level Two: Main Gallery, Studio, Facilities, Darkroom            3,000 s.f.

The second level will be conditioned and enclosed.  Gallery exhibits will be as visible as possible from the street during the day and night.  The Gallery will be designed to accommodate photography exhibits by the Owner, students, or other local and regional artists.  Natural and artificial lighting and interior partitions in the Gallery will be designed to be moveable and adaptable.

Level Three: Residence, Apartment, Archives            3,000 s.f.

The Residence will be designed for a family of four including 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and a kitchen, dining, and living space.  The Apartment will be designed with 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom, and a kitchen, dining and living space.  The Residence and Apartment will share laundry facilities.  The Archives will be secure space adequately sized for all negatives held by the Owner and future negatives.  The Archives will be flood proofed and accessible only from within the Residence.

Estimated construction budget: $500,000