Louisiana Gone: An evening on coastal land loss
A photo from Madelyn Smith’s book, Louisiana Gone, shows Lyle (right) and Lane (left) Leblanc, standing in front of a storage shack
on their family property. The Leblancs own and operate a licensed alligator farm on
their land just outside of Houma. Photo by Madelyn Smith.Photo by Madelyn Smith and Trent Andrus
Madelyn Smith, a sophomore from Lafayette studying natural resource ecology and management,
spent the past year photographing and collecting stories from Louisiana communities
threatened by coastal erosion. The book that resulted from her work, Louisiana Gone,
is filled with black and white images and essays that detail life along Louisiana’s
Smith is a 2017 recipient of the Udall Undergraduate Scholarship, a scholarship awarded
to only 50 college sophomores and juniors in the country and recognizes a student’s
commitment to issues related to the environment. She believes her book played a role
in her receiving the scholarship.
“I sent in photographs from the book with my application,” Smith said.
The Udall Foundation awards scholarships, fellowships and internships for study in
fields related to the environment and to American Indians and Alaska Natives in fields
related to health care and tribal public policy. As an Udall scholar, Smith will travel
to Tucson, Arizona, this summer for a conference with other Udall scholars, where
they will be charged with trying to find a solution to an environmental issue.
“This is a chance for us to network, but also to collaborate,” Smith said.
Smith, who is also in the Ogden Honors College, received a grant as part of the Roger
Hadfield Ogden Honors Leaders Award to complete the book. Smith is minoring in painting
and drawing and said the book blended her interests in outdoors and fine arts.
She worked with Trent Andrus, a junior studying mechanical engineering at LSU, to
take photographs and with Courtney Beesch, a sophomore studying digital culture at
Arizona State University, to layout the book.
Smith said the book is a call to action. “Our goal is to record a glimpse of what
will be lost if we do not respond with haste to this crisis,” she said.
Michael Kaller, an associate professor in the LSU School of Renewable Natural Resources,
serves as an adviser to Smith and recommended her for the scholarship.
“Madelyn is a leader and is committed to service to the LSU community and the Louisiana
Gulf of Mexico coast,” he said, adding her book, “documents how climate change and
environmental mismanagement impact residents in and around vulnerable and declining
Smith serves as president of the Sierra Student Coalition, which she co-founded. This
summer she will spend three weeks in Thailand with the LSU in Thailand program, which
focuses on sustainable agriculture. She plans to study shrimp farms in mangrove forests
and compare that industry with Louisiana’s oyster industry.
She said she plans to attend graduate school and study sustainable land management
Allie "Gator" is the weekend night doorman of the Jolly Inn, one of the last Cajun
dance halls remaining in Houma, Louisiana. He's a family friend of the establishment's
owner and a former member of the house band. He takes cover money from the families
that spend their evenings dancing and eating at the Jolly Inn in return for an unlimited
supply of free beer and the pleasure of showing off his washboard tie to newcomers.
Photo by Madelyn Smith and Trent Andrus
A photo from Madelyn Smith’s book, Louisiana Gone, shows the last remaining cemetery in Leeville which has been cemented into place
to prevent the wrought iron crosses and grave markers from subsiding further into
the Gulf of Mexico. Photo by Madelyn Smith and Trent Andrus