photographing disasters (like Katrina)
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.
I suggest you find a copy of Sontag's Regarding the Pain of Others for some possible answers -- or at least a useful perspective.
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.blogspo...r_archive.html
You need to page down to the Sept. 20th blog entry to see the related post.
"Fundamentally I think we need to rediscover a non-ironic world"
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.
Originally Posted by Jim Chinn
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.
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.
Originally Posted by Aggie
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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.
Using film since before it was hip.
"One of the most singular characters of the hyposulphites, is the property their solutions possess of dissolving muriate of silver and retaining it in considerable quantity in permanent solution" — Sir John Frederick William Herschel, "On the Hyposulphurous Acid and its Compounds." The Edinburgh Philosophical Journal
, Vol. 1 (8 Jan. 1819): 8-29. p. 11
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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.
Long live Ed "Big Daddy" Roth!!
"I don't care about Milwaukee or Chicago." - Yvon LeBlanc
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?
Last edited by BWKate; 10-02-2006 at 02:09 AM. Click to view previous post history.
Reason: bad grammar
Originally Posted by BWKate
Just bought it today http://books.lulu.com/content/407080
"People who say things won't work are a dime a dozen. People who figure out how to make things work are worth a fortune" - Dave Rat.
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.