Thursday, July 5, 2007

The Effect of Disaster Photographed

The disaster wrought by Hurricane Katrina is quickly approaching its two year anniversary. In the two years since, the world has seen thousands of hours of news footage and viewed innumerable still photographs depicting the devastation of both the landscape, and the livelihoods of the people affected. In a media-saturated world, the bombardment of imagery can have both a positive and negative influence on how we view the world. In one respect, media has allowed information and imagery to be widely accessible to millions of people who might not otherwise be able to obtain it. On the other hand, the over-saturation of this imagery can act as a numbing agent to people's sensitivity to important world events. I have noticed this occurrence with my own reaction to significant global issues.

Throughout the past year, dozens, if not hundreds of photography projects have emerged portraying the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina. Photographers ranging from Robert Polidori, Chris Jordan, Larry Towell and Katherine Wolkoff, just to name a few, have taken on the immense task of depicting the most destructive natural disaster the United States has ever seen. The vast majority of this work shows a ravaged, people-less landscape strewn with fragments of peoples lives. Uprooted telephone poles, overturned cars, collapsed roofs and water stained mattresses populate the imagery of this destruction. As potent as these images can be, their impact is often lessened by the frequency and manor in which we view them. Seeing the byproduct of thousands of ruined lives laid before you in such magnitude, has the power to desensitize one from the true weight of what they're seeing.

Catastrophes such as Hurricane Katrina certainly need to be documented, in order to bring awareness and understanding to issues that require resolution. However, when this documentation becomes too abundant it can act counterproductively. The real questions that need to be asked are, is there a point of saturation where this imagery become ineffective? And to what extent is this work created at the emotional expense of those truly impacted?

From Top to Bottom:

Chris Jordan, Mattresses from an apartment building, New Orleans East

Robert Polidori, 5000 Cartier Avenue, New Orleans, Louisiana, September 2005

Katherine Wolkoff, NEW ORLEANS (18), 2005-06

All Images Copyright the Artists