64 Parishes

David Rae Morris

David Rae Morris is an art photographer and photojournalist who maintains a home and studio in New Orleans.

David Rae Morris

Courtesy of David Rae Morris

Search and Rescue on Humanity Street. Morris, David Rae (photographer)

David Rae Morris is an art photographer and photojournalist who maintains a home and studio in New Orleans. His work focuses primarily upon Louisiana and neighboring Mississippi, including the book My Mississippi (2002), with text by his father, novelist Willie Morris; photos of Saints football fans who gather at a bar in his Bywater neighborhood, The Who Dat Nation at Vaughn’s Lounge; and his documentation of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and on the Gulf Coast. Morris documented the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina for more than five years with thousands of photographs. His documentation of the storm’s toll was featured in the solo exhibition Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans? at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans in November 2005, and in a book published that year, Missing New Orleans.

Morris was born in Oxford, England, on November 1, 1959, while his father was in residence as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University. He was raised in New York City. Morris acquired his first camera, a Polaroid Swinger, at age seven and graduated to a 35-mm camera and his own darkroom at age thirteen. After completing his BA degree in photography and theater design at Hampshire College, he moved to Mississippi in 1983 and worked as a photojournalist for the Scott County Times in Forest, The Delta Democrat in Greenville, and the Vicksburg Evening Post. During the 1980s he initiated a long-term project, Bound to Cover Just A Little More Ground: On Tour with The Deadheads, documenting fans of the Grateful Dead band who traveled from concert to concert. Another long-term photographic project, on Dr. Jane Ellen McAllister, an elderly African-American woman who led reform efforts in education for blacks in Louisiana and Mississippi, was a research topic for Morris when he completed his MA degree in journalism and mass communication at the University of Minnesota. After graduating, he moved to New Orleans in 1994, and began working as a freelance photographer for such publications as The New York Times, Newsweek, and Time.

In 2000, he completed My Mississippi, initiated with his father, a native of Yazoo City, Mississippi, then living in Oxford, Mississippi, who wrote about the distinctive regions and people of the state. David Rae Morris traveled across Mississippi, documenting its people and places, including bluesmen B.B. King and James “Son” Thomas, Klansman Byron De La Beckwith, Civil Rights movement activist Charles Evers, the Sweet Potato Queens women’s club, the Confederate Pageant at the Natchez Pilgrimage, the Neshoba County Fair, and the Stennis Space Center. The book was published shortly after Willie Morris’s death in 1999.

In early September 2005, only days after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, Morris returned to the region after evacuating ahead of the storm to photograph in Biloxi and Gulfport, Mississippi, and then New Orleans. The self-assigned work became what he has described this as “the story of my life” and one that would consume five years of his career. Ten weeks after the storm, more than forty of his photographs were featured in an exhibition, Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans, at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, including Floodwaters near the I-610, Gentilly; Louisiana Superdome; Central Business District; and Fats Domino’s Home, Lower Ninth Ward.

In 2007, Morris returned to an earlier planned exhibition for the Ogden Museum, David Rae Morris: Letters from My Father, based upon a series of letters Willie Morris had written to him, beginning when he was sixteen years old. The exhibition consisted of photographs of Willie Morris taken by David Rae Morris, accompanied by a selection of the letters. A revised version of the exhibition, titled Willie Morris in Oxford, was exhibited in Oxford, Mississippi, along with another exhibition titled The Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Morris chose black-and-white film when he made portraits of patrons at Vaughn’s Bar who regularly gathered to watch televised Saints football games in the 2009–10 season that led to the team’s first Super Bowl victory. These portraits were published in The Who Dat Nation at Vaughn’s Lounge, Photographs by David Rae Morris (2010). In 2010, Morris initiated a photographic series in Honduras, and he began an ongoing series documenting the massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. In the fall of 2011, moving in new directions, he made a documentary film, Drawing on a Dream, about Mississippi artist and musician Jerry Lee “Duff’ Dorrough, and began work on a documentary film focused on Morris’s family history in Yazoo City.

His photographs can be found in the collections of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans, the Louisiana State Museum, and the Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson.