photographing disasters (like Katrina)

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by Shannon Stoney, Sep 30, 2006.

  1. Shannon Stoney

    Shannon Stoney Member

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    Just wondering what people were thinking about the recent spate of anniversary of Katrina photo shows. I saw two today. I had to go outside and cry for a while after the second one. It was just more slime, mold, soggy books, and wrecked furniture and houses, but as it all adds up, it sort of grinds you down. I photographed my partner's father's wrecked house last fall, and these photographs were so much the same, and the exact patterns that the slime made on things was so identical, that it brought back the whole experience of the loss of his childhood home, and it multiplied it by the thousands of similar homes and losses. I could handle photographing ONE wrecked house, but seeing more and more photographs of more and more wrecked and ruined houses, family photographs, clothes, beds, chairs, etc is sort of overwhelming. But at least I only photographed MY family's disaster. I didn't go in anybody else's house uninvited.

    I heard somebody say (maybe Brooks Jensen?) that it seemed wrong somehow to go into the home of somebody you don't know and photograph the wreckage, when they're not there and can't give you permission. It seems as if there was a certain amount of ambulance-chasing going on in the immediate aftermath. One of the shows I saw today was by a guy from PA who just dropped everything and flew down to NOLA to photograph the devastation. He was not a photojournalist, not from NOLA, not even from the South, and the photographs were not meant to be journalism, published in a magazine or newspaper. They were supposed to be Art and they were in a Gallery. Somehow this sort of rubbed me the wrong way, although the photographs were good. It was just that it seemed exploitative, to further your own career using the misfortune of other people. (I think part of the sales went to Habitat, so maybe that made it a little less exploitative.)

    On the other hand, I saw another show about Katrina that I thought was just right, by Thomas Neff. It was photographs of people, with written stories about what happened to them during and after the flood, and how they survived, and how they were doing a year later. It seemed more homegrown, and maybe that's why it didn't seem exploitative. It seemed as if the photographer knew the people and their stories and names, and he was telling their story for them, with their help.

    There does seem to be a demand for pictures of disasters, and of abjectly poor people. Why? In the context of news, maybe this makes sense. But I'm not sure it makes sense in a gallery. It just seems to encourage a sort of bourgeois voyeurism that makes me uncomfortable.
     
  2. bjorke

    bjorke Member

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    I suggest you find a copy of Sontag's Regarding the Pain of Others for some possible answers -- or at least a useful perspective.
     
  3. Jim Chinn

    Jim Chinn Member

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    I think over time people become desensitized to pain and suffering when they are inudated with images 24/7. Personally I skip past most websites about Katrina. First, most contain the same images over and over again. Second I have an image of vultures circling a carcass when I read about all the photographers from outside that region who show up take some pictures and are then profiting from the images. I imagine they donate some proceeds to katrina relief, but it still seems rather opportunistic.

    For those who lived the disaster, lost home and friends I think they have a claim on being the messengers of the event.

    An interesting conversation about Jerry Spagnoli's Dageureotype of the World Trade Center on 9/11 took place over at The Online Photographer. It relates in some ways to this thread. http://theonlinephotographer.blogspot.com/2006_09_01_theonlinephotographer_archive.html

    You need to page down to the Sept. 20th blog entry to see the related post.
     
  4. Aggie

    Aggie Member

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    This happens all too often. As with Katrina, there were many who had the right ideas, but swooped down for a week or so, going to the edges of the destruction, then scrambling home to process their treasures, and make a profit. Those that lived it all in its full horror, were sickened by this feeding frenzy. Sure maybe a bit of the profits went to the victims, but the real profits from some of those images stayed with the vultures. The people who lived there, were still collecting their lives, and surviving. If you want real soul of a disaster, look at Sam Portero's images. He didn't do the fringe work, he walked through his old neighborhood, and saw the devastation that was once his life, and the life of those around him.

    Too often we try to imagine the pain of those who sufered through it. Yes a picture can speak a thousand words, but whose words? Is it an outsiders glimpse, or the soul and heart of what was damaged speaking? Hard choices.
     
  5. roteague

    roteague Member

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    Amen. No one has been able to come close to putting the kind of emotions into images of New Orleans after Katrina that Sam has.
     
  6. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    Have to add my vote for Sam Portera's photos too because they are about life, not about rubbish and destruction. In the case of Katrina, I think this is a fine choice to make.
     
  7. papagene

    papagene Membership Council Council

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    I'll add my vote for Sam's work. His photos can bring tears to one's eyes because they are about his life and how Katrina has affected it so deeply.

    gene
     
  8. BWKate

    BWKate Member

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    I totally agree with you Gene,

    I have been very moved by Sam's work. He does have a made to order book available from the online book publisher, Lulu. Has anyone bought one of Sam's books and what is the quality like?
     
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  9. Steve Smith

    Steve Smith Member

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    Just bought it today http://books.lulu.com/content/407080



    Steve.
     
  10. Aggie

    Aggie Member

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    Not to take away from the lulu book, there will be another one coming out of Sam's work. Actually it will be combining Sam's and Dorothy's work. Emulsion is helping the two of them combine their images of before and after with a twist at the end. this will be a high quality book. Emulsion will see no profits from it, rather we are just here to help them realize a dream, and to see if they can make enough money to help them start rebuilding a bit of their lives. The quality of their work and the passion they have for the subject matter, having lived through it all, deserves a high quality publication.
     
  11. Daniel_OB

    Daniel_OB Member

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    I saw many sets of pictures about the same event. However nearly all shows what twister did but not what happened to people. Ruined houses and other properties, but not ruined lifes. Not to visit someone over there is not very smart, we are photographers and sometimes we have to do something out of logic. We have here in Canada many similar ruins (large scale fire,…) but “no photog” runs there. However magazines editors, politicians, and many galleries just do not care what happened inside people, but rather what happened around and outside them. That “brings”, probably, money so no wonder what that gallery shows.
    Seeing that ruins, as I saw, really left me just to assume that it means anything to anyone there (e.g. to rich guy it means nothing for he already have some extra houses). Just assumptions. Might be and photographers that made majority of that pictures does not have any interest to see them again. And, I believe, many pictures and digitally manipulated to get some extra $$$$. That is life today….
    Stoney, by the way do you live in New Orleans?

    www.Leica-R.com
     
  12. donbga

    donbga Member

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    YATTI!
     
  13. Early Riser

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    I have mixed emotions about photographing disasters. On one hand good photography of a disaster can possibly help bring greater public awareness and help. On the other hand the vast majority of people who go and photograph disasters are not people like professional photojournalists or those who have a significant audience for those photos. If you have a significant audience you can increase awareness and get aid to those suffering. If you don't have such an audience for your work and the photos you take are more likely to never get any greater audience than your local photo club or web site, your actions at the disaster scene can actually do more harm than good.

    On Sept 9th, 2001, after the towers fell, there were many amateur photographers who rushed down to the WTC, not to help in the recovery but because it was an unbelievable photo op. After all how many times in one's life does one get to photograph something as significant as this. So many rushed there, camera in hand. This was inspite of urgent pleas from the mayor's office, the Police and Fire Departments for people to stay away from ground zero. Even those who were missing loved ones who were in the towers were told to stay away, yet many hobbyist photographers went there. Trampling on what was simultaneously a crime scene, an open tomb and an ongoing rescue/recovery operation.

    Personally, I never want to profit from the adversity of others. The need to show just how compassionate I am does not include photographing someone while they're suffering, I'd rather lend them a hand instead.
     
  14. Daniel_OB

    Daniel_OB Member

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    donbga
    "YATT"

    What amusing comment, what inteligent guy, how just smart you are. Is it you expect. I think many here should appreciate your comments more than you expect.:tongue: Just go on do not give up.
     
  15. Dorothy Blum Cooper

    Dorothy Blum Cooper Member

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    Tom Neff lives in Baton Rouge. He is a photographer and Professor of Art at LSU. He's got years of shooting under his belt and knows the area well...thus the different feel regarding his work from those on the 'outside' who came in to shoot.

    He emailed me regarding his (then) upcoming exhibit. Sorry to say I wasn't able to attend the opening due to our pending move from Louisiana (thanks to Katrina).

    Glad you could 'see' the difference in his work.
     
  16. david b

    david b Member

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    In defense of my own work, I went to NOLA 5 months after Katrina. The intent almost immediately was to show the world that the area was not back to normal and still looked like Katrina had just happened.

    The other intent of mine was to give the profits from my recent show of Lower Ninth Ward images, to a charity/orgazination that would actually help the people of the area. And this is what I have done. I have not made one penny on the sale of my images and will be donating almost $1000 to www.plenty.org.

    Sam Portera came to the opening in Santa Fe and was witness to the interest and concern people still have in this disaster. I talked to him throughout this process, and in turn, he has become a great friend.

    His work is far better than anything else I have seen, and this includes work from such big wigs like Magnum, VII, and everyone else.
     
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  17. Sportera

    Sportera Member

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    I think that disasters have fans. People want to see, they want to understand. What bothers me is when the work is done, just to make money. I am in no way trying to make money with this work, I just want to share it. I didn't announce the LULU book because I made that book for family and friends, and until today (thank you steve smith) I had given every copy I purchased away, I did not sell them, I gave them.

    David's work has already raised a nice sum of money for plenty.org I was honored to attend the opening and to keep the issue alive. To let people know that, we are still recovering here. That the politicians are the ones making out with YOUR money not us home owners. That insurance companies have MADE money on the disaster.

    I pgotograph as therapy and to tell our story, I thinks its a good story. Yes the images can begin to look the same after awhile. Just remind your self that you are looking at SOMEONE"S home, and they are still, in most cases, homeless over a year later.
     
  18. Steve Smith

    Steve Smith Member

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    I got home this evening to find my copy had been delivered. The quality of the book is good - better than I expected and the images are superb.

    I am fascinated by the shapes formed by the dried out mud on the floors.

    Some of the images of buildings show a cross with some numbers marked on the walls or doors. What is the significance of this?

    Thanks for taking the time to put this project together.


    Steve.
     
  19. Sportera

    Sportera Member

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    Steve

    I am glad you enjoyed the book!

    The marks you asked about are search marks.

    upon entering a house the search team puts one line or slash along with the date and unit ID, date on top unit on the left.

    when the team exits the structure they complete the X with another line, the number on the left indicates hazards found (Structural, chemical etc.) The number on the bottom indicates the number of bodies found.

    Thanks again.
    Sam
     
  20. snegron

    snegron Member

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    Disasters are inevitable. Pain and suffering is inevitable. If photographs were taken to record the event at the time, with no other motive other than simply recording the facts, I don't see any moraly reprehensive issue. Could these photographs help serve as a warning to others who don't take huricanes seriously? Could these photographs help expose the deplorable racism that many Americans face every day as New Orleans residents experienced with the lack of immediate help? Could these photographs be simply a method of some photographer to exploit suffering in order to gain recognition as a journalist? Possibly. It boils down to the idea of photography as a method of recording events. The photographer's responsibility is to record the event as he or she sees it, the editors and public will draw their own conclusions.