Home for Adam Culpepper was a single word in a sign above his front door — "faith."
And the sign was the first thing he sought upon returning to his Denham Springs home after the floodwater receded last August.
The sign was still there but crooked. Culpepper reached above the door and straightened his "faith" and knew everything would be all right.
Maybe it was. Photographer Collin Richie plans to find out, but that story will have to wait until later. For now, he's telling the story of Baton Rouge-area flood victims through photographic portraits, 50 of which are hanging in the Louisiana Art & Science Museum's "Faces of the Flood."
Culpepper's gloved hands clutch the "faith" sign in this show, which runs through Sept. 3. Sunday marks the one-year anniversary of the water's swelling throughout the Baton Rouge area, but Richie and his team's portrait documentation didn't begin until the water receded.
That's when they spread out in the area, talking to people as they returned to the devastation that once was their homes. Most people didn't mind telling their stories and having their photo taken. And though each story was different, all were bound by a common denominator — hope — or, in Culpepper's case, faith.
Culpepper told Richie the sign created a sense of normalcy and hope for what he faced.
"And the amazing part was that so many of the people we encountered were like this," Richie said. "So many of them had lost everything, yet they stressed that these were mostly material things. The things that they mourned were the small things, the things that held sentimental value. Everything else could be replaced."
Richie began the project last year while on assignment to photograph the Cajun Navy in action for InRegister magazine. The project quickly expanded into a Facebook community page photography project he called "Humans of the Water."
"I've done a lot of commercial work, and I've learned to get the story, as well as the photos," Richie said. "I've always enjoyed asking people questions, but this time, I just let them talk."
The project title was inspired by "Humans of New York," photographer Brandon Stanton's photoblog of people on the streets of that city. The blog has garnered international attention since its 2010 premiere, resulting in a series of books.
"Humans of the Water" also received global nods, and Richie likewise foresees the possibility of a book with proceeds benefiting an appropriate charity. For now, the exhibit continues the story.
Richie was joined on this project by fellow photographers Frank McMains, David Morris, Dan Jones and Kristin Basilica, who spread throughout the affected parishes to capture people and their stories.
"Only 50 portraits hang in the exhibit, but there are much more online," Richie said. "We whittled them down to 100, and Elizabeth whittled them down to 50 after that."
Richie referred to museum curator Elizabeth Weinstein, who also opted to title the show "Faces of the Flood," because it better reflected the museum's telling of the story.
Looped weather reports from WAFB's August 2016 newscasts, along with front pages from The Advocate's flood coverage and a map of the flood area, set the stage for the show.
Images taken by the public during and following the flood are continuously collected and displayed on a monitor outside the second floor gallery. Visitors also can post notes of thanks on a board next to the monitor to those who helped through the disaster.
And in between are the "Faces of the Flood," peeking out from the ruins, some smiling, some holding on to loved ones and some clinging to signs of faith.
Joining Culpepper in a photo is Rusty Martin, of Denham Springs, standing in what remained of his dining room after an estimated 4 feet of water submerged the bottom floor of his home. Not knowing what to expect, he tied a boat to his second floor balcony to evacuate.
"When I saw my flask of 30-year scotch float by me, I reached out and grabbed it," he told photographers. "I knew everything would be just fine.'"
There's also Mexico-based missionary Daryl Penny, of Baton Rouge, who lost his mission home due to landslides as a result of Hurricane Earl only the month before floodwater filled his Baton Rouge home.
"Before I left for Mexico, I looked through some dictionaries we had kept. They didn't even have the word internet in them, so I guess it's not a total loss," he said.
"Daryl is my friend, and out of all of them, his story sticks with me the most because he lost two homes," Richie said. "Yet he remained upbeat."
Then there's Jeremy Crawford, of Watson, who sits on the hood of a truck next to a drying American flag brought home by his roommate after a tour in Afghanistan.
And finally, there's 19-year-old Tyrione Williams sitting on pallets after volunteering with supply distribution. His Baton Rouge home also was flooded, but he focused his attention helping neighbors, saying his faith has affected his work in his neighborhood.
"I prayed for this one family," he said. "It felt good to just pray."