Archive for New Orleans

Photographers of post Katrina New Orleans

Posted in Photography, Photography: subjective documentary with tags , on March 6, 2011 by melaniemenardarts

After being so fascinated by how Robert Polidori photographed ravaged interiors in his ‘After the flood’ series, I looked into other photographers of post Katrina New Orleans in order to find out how they each approached the subject, dealt with the ethical implications, and what aesthetic choices they made.

Seesaw magazine presented ‘Remnants’ by Wyatt Gallery and ‘After the Cry’ by Will Steacy.

I like the colours, depth and shadows in Wyatt Gallery’s photographs.

'Remnants' by Wyatt Gallery

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Will Steacy adopts a more documentary perspective, focusing on heaps of debris and a near scientific study of molds. He is interested in environmental concerns.

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In his photo essay In the Wake of Katrina, Larry Towell adopts the trademark Magnum B&W documentary style. Some pictures devoid of people have a strong haunting quality, particularly long branches and debris near the Mississippi shoreline, a stuffed fox in a glass tank escaped from a museum or collection and a flooded cemetery with the trees and tombs reflected in the water (You need to watch the whole essay on the provided link, I cannot embed particular photos from a flash presentation).

In In Katrina’s Wake: Portraits of Loss from an Unnatural Disaster, Chris Jordan mostly adopt a documentary ‘outdoor’ perspective but a few pictures convey a more aesthecized and disturbing perspective.

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I found this ‘Baptist Church, Lower Ninth Ward’ particularly amazing.

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Jane Fulton Alt is both a photographer and a social worker. Her photograph series ‘Look and leave’ was taken while she accompanied displaced Lower ninth Ward residents revisit the ruins of their former home as a volunteer worker on the ‘Look and leave’ program. The photographs are accompanied by narrative about the reactions of the people who visited their destroyed homes, but these people do not appear on the photographs. Only empty homes and personal belongings are shown. She comments ‘As a photographer, I prefer to let pictures speak for themselves. But as a social worker, I know that there are some images that stories can illuminate.’ She makes a point that the pictures were not taken while the residents visited their destroyed homes, but on her own after her social worker shift has ended. It is interesting how her perspective as a social worker influence her vision as a photographer, yet the two activities are kept formally distinct. (Again follow the link, the pictures don’t embed.)

John Woodin was raised in New Orleans. A year before Katrina, he photographed his childhood neighborhood and the interior of the homes of his family, focusing on the architecture of the ‘working poor’. After Katrina, he came back and took pictures of the exact same locations. (follow link for portfolios ‘City of memory’ and ‘After the flood’, I cannot embed pictures from a flash presentation.)

In ‘Color of Loss’, Dan Burholder uses HDR (High Dynamic Range) to picture interiors devastated by Katrina in great details despite the darkness. The photographs are supposed to look like paintings. However I find them rather disappointing because I feel the HDR process is taken too far. Moderate HDR enhancement can look striking, but here, the shadows are completely obliterated and most pictures have a completely even lightness on their full surface. To me, the colours appear both saturated and washed out because of this even bright quality to them. The total absence of shadows combined with a choice of lens giving a distorted perspective in some of the pictures cause the feeling of a total loss of the sense of space, at least to me as a viewer. It is possible that the HDR process was taken a bit too far due to over enthusiasm for a back then new technique.

Portrait of Neglect by Debbie Fleming Caffery consist in B&W photographs of displaced residents and ravaged places. There is a striking picture of plaster hands from a statue in front of a wall with peeling pain, but again, I can’t embed from a flash essay.

There are more close up portraits in Debbie Fleming Caffery’s series than in any other work considered. I find it darkly ironic that the work of Robert Polidori has been attacked as immoral for being too anaesthetized, and the documentary work of other people, for example Alec Soth, is sometimes judged dubious for having a too ‘poetic’ perspective. Documentary photography is never neutral, it always shows as much the photographer’s perspective as the events depicted, and it is even clearer when comparing the work of several photographers on a same subject.

As a viewer, Debbie Fleming Caffery’s close up portraits are the only Katrina pictures that made me feel uneasy. Though I’ve never done portraits myself, I’m always fascinated with portraits where the subject is given the opportunity to try and show themselves as they wish to be seen, such as Diane Arbus. Of course, they most of the time will project a different image as intended, or let something slip, but that’s the interest of it, the subject cannot fully control the photograph any more than they can fully control their life, any more than the photographer themselves can fully control the picture they’re taking. But at least the subject is given an opportunity, they’re given power, and the photographer takes some kind of risk than their subject may subvert the picture. I find it exciting that, because there are different inputs to the picture, the result is uncertain. With ‘candid’ portraits showing expressions with a lot of pathos, I don’t think I’m so much made uneasy by looking at people suffering, than by being presented with a picture carrying a label of ‘raw emotion’. It’s almost like the picture carries a label ‘this a truth! this person is not performing for the camera!’. But I only see the finished picture, I cannot see how it was taken, and it is still possible that the subject performs. It’s only my subjective experience as a viewer, but I think what makes me most uneasy with ‘candid’ pictures, is that they give me the impression that the photographer is denying presenting a viewpoint.

Robert Polidori: photographing interiors as ‘metaphors for states of being’

Posted in Artists that inspire me, Photography, Photography: subjective documentary, Urban Exploration with tags , , , , , on January 21, 2011 by melaniemenardarts

Via 2010 MA graduate Esmeralda Munoz Torrero, I was introduced to the concept of ‘late photography’ as coined by David Campany in his book ‘Safety in Numbness: Some Remarks on the Problems of “Late Photography”’ (2003). ‘Late photography’ record the consequences of events after they have happened, their aftermath.

Of particular interest to me was the work of Canadian photographer Robert Polidori who photographed houses devastated by flood waters in his series ‘New Orleans after the flood’.He also took photographs of the abandoned buildings in the no man’s land around Chernobyl/Pripyat, the Chateau de Versailles under renovation and grand buildings of La Havana left to slowly decay.

I was first drawn to his visual style, with very vivid yet slightly faded colours, with a kind of ‘technicolor’ feel to them, not the type of strong colours you get in commercial photography. His pictures are both very sharp and detailed, yet they contained ambiguous shadows. This is exactly the type of visual feel I try to achieve myself, a feel I describe as cinematic. Indeed, Polidori works exclusively with natural light and long exposures, the way I do. He says that ‘the grammar of [his] pictorialism comes from pre-Renaissance and Renaissance perspective’. As a joke, Polidori compares his use of long exposure to spirit photography because he too aims to ‘reveal an inner truth’.

In an interview with artinfo, Polidori explains how the visual style of his images, including their high level of details, is crafted to emotionally involve the viewer:

‘ When images are soft, they just remain evocative, or in your imagination. You get a mood, and it remains on the emotional level. The viewer has to put more of him or herself into it. When there is more detail, it’s like that old expression: There’s no fiction stranger than reality. Reality will compose the most extreme paradoxes and contradictions and adjacencies, which can’t be understood.
So detail gives you more mental work to do. There are more things to look at, which suggest more and more questions. All that mood is still there anyway, so it’s like the double-punch effect. It’s a question of keeping the mind occupied while the emotions are being silently manipulated on the back burner.’

I absolutely loved this concept of camouflaging emotional manipulation aimed at the viewer behind an apparently straightforward, documentary style, making it all the more efficient that it is surreptitious.

Polidori also explains his interest in photographing interiors:

‘I’m interested in interiors, and I have been for a long time, simply because they’re indices of individuals’ personal values. They tell you a lot about the individual. Like I’ve said before, to me interiors are both metaphors and catalysts for states of being. You can take a portrait of somebody, and you might have a feeling looking at their face, but you know less things about them by looking at their face than you do when you look at the way that they compose their own interior space. What interests me are their values.’ He compares his work to that of ‘collecting evidence, like a detective looking to solve a case’.

That’s exactly how I feel about my Ghost House series: what fascinates me is trying to put back together the lives of their former inhabitants, gues who they were based on the belongings they left behind.

In an interview with Bombsite Polidori explains that he first became interested in rooms after reading a book about the Pythagorean School, where students would memorize empty rooms as a mnemonic aid to memorize events: rooms were turned into ‘a locus for memory’. Polidori himself views rooms as ‘ metaphors for states of being’.

He is particularly interested in derelict buildings because they hold more memories: ‘the rooms that are devastated by time are the ones that have the most traces. The brand-new, fabricated rooms only have graphic qualities. They don’t really have any soul to them.’

What interested him in his photographs of Versailles under restoration was the concept of ‘historical revisionism’: ‘when you choose to restore a certain room as it was in a certain period, the period you choose is based on your contemporary worldview. Each point of view of the present has its harmonics in the past.’ The Palace told as much about France of the Mitterrand years as it did about the times when it was built. He explains ‘what we are looking at in these museum restorations is the society’s superego, what a society thinks of itself, and how it thinks it should be seen by itself’.

He then widens the concept to relate it to the rest of his work: ‘this is what individuals do to a room. Again this same theme. It’s the exteriorization of the soul life or of personal values. What we have affixed on these walls is the superego, in the Jungian sense.’

I found this idea that a room reflects the philosophical values of its inhabitants fascinating. I think this is a similar concern that draws me to the religious imagery found in the Ghost Houses, what they say about the world-view of their former inhabitants. In the context of the Magdalene laundries, this religious imagery takes a darker undertone, when one contrasts the message of Jesus with the arbitrary imprisonment of innocent girls. Here indeed, we find society’s Superego, the values it claims to follow, clashing with the actual actions.

In an interview where he defends his New Orleans series, Polidori states in conclusion ‘it is an unforgiving fact that we are all born and die alone in this world. I consider it as the definition of the human condition.’

All in all, I think Robert Polidori is the photographer I feel closest to among all the artists I discovered in my research, both on the visual and philosophical levels.

Link to Photo Gallery: http://www.life.com/image/first/in-gallery/51801/robert-polidori-points-between

Versailles

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Velours Frappé, Salles Du XVIIème, Versailles 1985. All images courtesy of the artist.

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Marat De David, RDC, Aile Du Midi, Versailles 1985.

New Orleans: After the Flood

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Robert Polidori, “2732 Orleans Avenue, New Orleans, Louisiana, September 2005”

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

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“Industrial Canal breach, Reynes Street, New Orleans, September 2005”

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“2520 Deslondes, New Orleans, March 2006”

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“1923 Lamanche Street, New Orleans, March 2006”

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“5417 Marigny Street, New Orleans, Louisiana, March 2006”

Cuba

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Calle Cardenas 27, Cantro Habana, Havana (2002)

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Sala Alejo Carpentier, Gran Teatro de la Habana, Habana Vieja, Havana (2000)

Chernobyl and Pripyat

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Unit 4 Control Room (June 6-9, 2001)

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Classroom in Kindergarten #7, “Golden Key.” Pripyat. (June 6-9, 2001)

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Operating Room in Hospital #126, Pripyat. (June 6-9, 2001)

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Cafeteria in School #5, Pripyat. (June 6-9, 2001)

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Waiting room in hospital #126, Pripyat. (June 6-9, 2001)

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Hallway in School #5, Pripyat. (June 6-9, 2001)

Ghost Towns in the USA: Detroit and New Orleans.

Posted in Critical theory, Parallel theory, Photography, Urban Exploration with tags , , , , , on January 20, 2011 by melaniemenardarts

On Triple Canopy website, I found a presentation by Bryan FinokiThe anatomy of ruins: New American landscapes: varieties of blight, idylls of desolation, the lifespan of decay.

It presents the new phenomenon of Ghost Towns, caused by economic recession (Detroit) or natural disasters (New Orleans). The case of New Orleans is also not purely natural because it is the lack of State investment in public infrasctructures that made the city unprotected from known natural threats. Therefore, as argues the author, these images are in all cases a symptom of the failure of Capitalism. He links these Ghost Towns to Naomi Klein’s concept of ‘disaster capitalism’, that is the strategy of private corporations exploiting natural catastrophes and lack of governement infrastructures as opportunities for profit.

The author says that these images of no man’s land have become contemporary icons expressing our ‘infatuation with our own destruction’ and the ‘phantasmagorias of the End Times’.

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An article about the destruction of Michigan Central Station, Detroit.