Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Ed Richards - The Katrina Project

Basically there seem to have been two kinds of Katrina photographers (well - maybe three if you include the storm chasing press photogs)

Those who travelled down to Louisiana in the days and months after the catastrophe. Who came and saw and photographed but who eventually left again - and produced their bodies of work - books and shows and articles. Chris Jordan, Robert Polidori, Larry Towell and others. The work is generally outstanding, full of clear sighted empathy. Some are even donating proceeds from their work to rebuilding the region.

Then there are those photographers who lived there. By chance (or bad luck?) they found the place they lived had become the locus of the storm. Some I know evacuated and then returned as soon as they could. Some rode out the storm. And while most of these are not what we tend to call "name" photographers - the guys with gallery representation or Magnum membership, there were some who are nevertheless, very very good photographers. They also had a unique eye and perspective. (though note - I am the last person to say that to really photograph somewhere you have to live there)

One such is Ed Richards who is based 70 miles from New Orleans in Baton Rouge (another would be Sam Portera who has published his stunning work in After The Water). Ed was on the edge of Katrina, but very much involved with disaster preparation and response and felt its impact. The first photos of Ed's I saw were raw - the images themselves were raw, technically they were raw and they were in large, overwhelming unedited collections. In retrospect I don't think this was a bad thing, and I also think it probably mirrored Ed's experiences. Over time he has refined the work (though as he says, the web really doesn't do the prints justice).

"...While I was busy in Baton Rouge, I kept I close watch on Katrina coverage in the news and in the photography community. I saw two trends: a lot of good news photography and photojournalism focusing on the human side; and serious photographers from out of the area, such as Chris Jordan, who were doing good work in New Orleans, but who, not being familiar with the region, did not venture far out of New Orleans.

As things settled down in Baton Rouge, and security was relaxed on the flooded areas, which was about two months after the storm, I started systematically exploring the entire region affected by Katrina, from Ocean Spring, Mississippi, which is just east of Biloxi, to Grand Isle, Louisiana, which is west and south of New Orleans. What I saw was both amazing and frightening. I started documenting the damage with my 4x5, but from the perspective of a fine art photographer rather than a photojournalist. I soon realized that there was a nexus between my professional work and my photography: documenting the effect on the built environment was a great way to get people to understand the long-term problems that most emergency planning ignores...."

Ed still has a lot of images on his website, but I think that in itself is important. These are an inventory of the after-effect of Katrina - especially in the lesser known areas outside New Orleans. In fact looking at these, I'm reminded of nothing so much as trawling through the image database at the FSA collection of the Library of Congress - Walker Evans's images of similar communities, or Russell Lee or Dorothea Lange. But make no mistake, Ed's photographs are not nostalgic or anachronistic - quite the opposite.

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