Louie Palu is an award winning documentary photographer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in publications and exhibitions internationally. He is a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellow, Harry Ransom Center Research Fellow at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the recipient of numerous awards including a Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting Grant and a Milton Rogovin Fellowship at the Center Creative Photography. He is well known for work which examines social political issues such as human rights, conflict and poverty. His work is in numerous collections including the National Gallery of Art (Washington D.C.), National Gallery of Canada, Museum of Fine Arts Houston and Museum of Fine Arts Boston. His work has been featured on the BBC, Al Jazeera, Der Spiegel, NPR, El Pais, The New York Times and La Republica. His photographs and films have been exhibited in numerous museums and festivals such as the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Baltimore Museum of Art and Munich Documentary Film Festival.
Looking past the façade of the federal government in Washington, D.C., the architecture of the White House and Capitol Hill have become defining images of U.S. identity and political power. Wars have been declared, international trade deals signed, domestic and foreign policy made. The World Bank and International Monetary Fund are headquartered there. Almost every country in the world has an embassy or some form of representation in D.C., yet no connection to many of the city’s longtime residents. It’s as if there are two different cities within one being forced to live together. In one version of Washington, we see familiar images of the federal government. The other version, which we rarely see, includes some communities of people who live in the city who have no direct connection to the federal government.
A nation’s identity can be seen through the architecture that has come to define the city of Washington, D.C., both in its history and purpose. However, there is a current conflict amongst its residents on who controls the destruction and rebuilding of sections of the city’s neighborhoods. The relationship between economics, race, political power, servitude and security both bonds and divides communities within the city and reverberates domestically and internationally.
The city is surrounded by Civil War battlefields and it has slowly emerged from almost two centuries of a post-conflict aftermath. This includes the four recent decades of trauma beginning with the riots in 1968 after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, the ensuing urban decay, the crack epidemic, and a defining but divisive political era under D.C.’s “mayor for life” Marion Barry. Washington, D.C., is unique in that no other city exists with such an ironic, surreal, and often conflicted sense of identity; this is recognized worldwide, yet considered misrepresentative by the people who live there. The conflict over who defines the city, the communities and its identity has been fought out between its residents and the federal government with its transient workforce for decades. Now a final chapter in this conflict seems to be unfolding and it revolves around what some label as the renewal—and others, the destruction—of sections of the city. Some federal institutions are being decentralized and moved into the surrounding region of the states of Maryland and Virginia, changing one face of this Federal City. Real estate values are rising, condominiums are being built, new residents are moving in while others are being displaced—many who have inhabited the city’s neighborhoods for generations.
To view more of Louie Palu’s work please visit his website.