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New Orleans and the Levees

Call Number: GEN MSS 1470

Description of Papers

Views of sites and portraits of people on and near levees surrounding New Orleans, Louisiana, created by Karen Halverson in spring 2015 and 2016, and printed as color inkjet prints on Canson Platine Fibre Rag Paper, 20 x 24 inches (51 x 61 centimeters). Images include views of buildings and ships as well as people in Orleans Parish except where noted in the guide. The prints are untitled with parenthetical numbers provided by Halverson to differentiate images. The collection comprises an edition numbered three of twelve.

In an artist's statement that accompanied the collection upon acquisition in 2016 of photographs she captured in spring 2015, Halverson describes the work:

For many years, much of my work as a photographer has focused on the human relationship to the landscape. Recently, I headed to New Orleans, a city with a unique and precarious relationship to its natural environment. New Orleans sits in a bowl, half of it below sea level, edged by the Mississippi River to the South, wetlands to the West, and large lakes North and East. It is a city that requires a complex system of levees and underground pumps to stay dry. Within a few days of arriving in New Orleans; I decided to photograph the levees themselves, the views they afford, and the people who make use of them.

In 1718, the French established the settlement of New Orleans along a natural levee made up of silt deposited by the Mississippi River. Ever since colonial times, man-made levees, either earthen berms or concrete walls, have been built against the surrounding waters. But the man-made levees also prevent natural silt deposition. As a result, New Orleans is sinking while, at the same time, sea levels are rising due to climate change.

There have been dozens of hurricanes over the centuries, but Hurricane Katrina, in 2005, was epic. Eighty percent of the city was flooded. It is now well established that the design and construction of the levees were seriously flawed. Since Katrina, they have been rebuilt based on computer-generated models of potential storms.

Although the levees are meant for flood control, from early on they also served another purpose. Gentlemen and "free colored courtesans" (Thomas Ashe, Travels in America, 1811) gathered on them in search of fresh air. Today the levees are popular strolling places for the great mix of people who live in or visit New Orleans. From most points in the city, the levees block the view of the Mississippi River. So, a walk along the levee offers not only fresh air and a chance to mingle, but also a look at the business of the river, the huge shipping facilities and oil refineries that line the river's edge and that reflect a significant part of the New Orleans economy. This series of photographs, New Orleans and the Levees, is the result of my stroll along the levees during the spring of 2015.


  • 2015-2016


Language of Materials

In English.

Conditions Governing Access

This material is open for research.

Ownership & Copyright

The Karen Halverson, New Orleans and the Levees, are the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchased from Karen Halverson on the Frederick W. and Carrie S. Beinecke Fund for Western Americana, 2016 and 2022.


Organized into two series: I. Inkjet Photographs, 2015. II. Inkjet Photographs, 2015-2016.


11.67 Linear Feet (5 boxes)

Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


Photographs of sites and portraits of people on and near levees surrounding New Orleans, Louisiana, created by Karen Halverson in spring 2015 and 2016. Images include views of buildings and ships as well as people in Orleans Parish and Jefferson Parish.

Karen Halverson (born 1941)

Karen Halverson is a documentary landscape photographer. Born in Syracuse, New York, Halverson received a Bachelor of Arts from Stanford University and Masters of Arts from Brandeis University and Columbia University. In 1975, she made her first photographic project, which documented the Garment District in New York City. Much of her work documents the tension between the natural and cultural landscapes of the American West. She is the author of Downstream: Encounters with the Colorado River (University of California Press, 2008), which retraces the route of John Wesley Powell’s expeditions and explores what contemporary Americans have made of the waterway.

Processing Notes

Collections are processed to a variety of levels, depending on the work necessary to make them usable, their perceived research value, the availability of staff, competing priorities, and whether or not further accruals are expected. The library attempts to provide a basic level of preservation and access for all collections, and does more extensive processing of higher priority collections as time and resources permit. These materials have been arranged and described according to national and local standards. For more information, please refer to the Beinecke Manuscript Unit Processing Manual.

Each folder in the collection contains a single inkjet print.

Guide to the New Orleans and the Levees
Matthew Daniel Mason and Ashley Cale
January 2018
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Revision Statements

  • August 2022: Finding aid revised by Matthew Daniel Mason and Ashley Cale to describe the 2022 acquisition.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

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Opening Hours

Access Information

The Beinecke Library is open to all Yale University students and faculty, and visiting researchers whose work requires use of its special collections. You will need to bring appropriate photo ID the first time you register. Beinecke is a non-circulating, closed stack library. Paging is done by library staff during business hours. You can request collection material online at least two business days in advance of your visit, using the request links in Archives at Yale. For more information, please see Planning Your Research Visit and consult the Reading Room Policies prior to visiting the library.