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Thread: Visiting disaster sites

  1. #1

    Join Date
    Jun 2002

    Visiting disaster sites

    Taking a page from Frank Gohlke, who photographed tornado damaged communities and Mt. St. Helens post-eruption, what do you folks think of photographing the Gulf Coast and New Orleans?

    How would you approach getting there, when would you go, and what about the mechanics of photographing in a post disaster situation?

    Reference info:

    Photos of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake:

  2. #2

    Visiting disaster sites

    Based on the news footage and photography up on the web out of New Orleans, if you want to photograph in NO, perhaps a shallow draft boat would be in order. A tripod with extra long legs (or leg extensions) will allow you to set up the camera in standing water, although the 8 foot plus depth might make that tough. Maybe just use small format and shoot handheld from the boat.

    Working from a helicopter would work, but I suspect every available helicopter is pressed into use by emergency services for the forseeable future.

    In areas where you'd be photographing after the waters have receded, a four wheel drive vehicle with good ground clearance and some obvious equipment (e.g. a chain saw) would probably suffice.

    I think, if you plan to use small format digital equipment, you had better plan on supplying your own electricity. One of those itty bitty generators would do the trick for running computers, charging batteries, etc. as long as you can get your hands on gasoline.

    The bottom line is that all the infrastructure (electricity, communications, roads) you depend on is gone completely or so shattered that you can't depend on having in in any particular place.

  3. #3
    Resident Heretic Bruce Watson's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    USA, North Carolina

    Visiting disaster sites

    Having lived through hurricanes Fran and Floyd, I suggest you stay home. The last thing those people need is yet another photographer getting in the way and competing for scarce resources.

    Bruce Watson

  4. #4

    Join Date
    Nov 2001

    Visiting disaster sites

    From what I can tell, they are trying to get everyone out of NO, so they can decide how best to deal with the situation. I'd have to agree with Bruce; it's better if you stay home.

  5. #5

    Join Date
    Dec 2001
    San Joaquin Valley, California

    Visiting disaster sites

    Assuming you can get credentials to be allowed in, I'd guess something like a duece and a half would have the clearance to get you around some of the areas(I'm thinking N.O where there is and probably will be standing water for quite some time.) You'd probably get some really incredible images with aerials as well. As Paul Butzi stated, the rotary wing assets will probably be taken but fixed wing aircraft from outside the area should be available. ou might even be able to hitch a ride with CAP as an observer. While the subject of destruction is certainly important to record, the human tragedy is also important---I'm guessing that there are scores of towns on the outside of Katerina's path that a bulging with refugees. How they are going to be sheltered, fed, and educated(remember the school year just started) is also part of Katerina's legacy. A very sensitive subject, but also an important one.
    I steal time at 1/125th of a second, so I don't consider my photography to be Fine Art as much as it is petty larceny.

  6. #6
    tim atherton's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 1998

    Visiting disaster sites

    or like Meyerowitz with his "unofficial" extended portrait of the WTC site post 9/11 - which eventually became "official".

    You would basically need to be self-sufficient and have the gift of the gab.

    One photographer more or less isn't going to make a difference one way or the other - every news vrew under the sun is down there so the rest of America and the world can get its news fix. Maybe the right to vicarious viewing of disasters on TV should be written into the constitution?
    You'd be amazed how small the demand is for pictures of trees... - Fred Astaire to Audrey Hepburn blog

  7. #7

    Visiting disaster sites

    Having lived through hurricane Hugo, I can recommend being as sensitive as possible to the people around you, and maybe staying home altogether! I had cameras in my face on two occasions and I got quite irritated the second time. After a day or two people are over the stress of the initial event and start getting very testy because their lives are upside down.

    I recall a house (or what was left of one) on Sullivans Island with a bedsheet draped across the front porch. The owners had spray-painted "Gawkers go home" in big red letters. Suffering is tough enough but being a circus exhibit only makes it worse.

    You need to have your house blown over to really understand what that's like.

  8. #8

    Join Date
    Dec 2001
    San Joaquin Valley, California

    Visiting disaster sites

    This brings up an interesting point. Disasters like Katerina are really in the provence (literally) of those photographers who live in the area. Frank's comment about the SF earthquake and Tim's reference to 9-11 are great examples. We know there are LF photographers in NO and on the gulf coast. Were they able to 'ride out' Katerina? Did they survive? WQere they able to reenter thier home towns after evacuation? Did they think to(were they able to) take photographs of the disaster? Like Meyerowitz in NYC and those old time photographers in the San Francisco quake, they are the ones who have the opportunity to best put this tragedy on film. Time will tell.

    Arrgh! The idea referring to this tragedy as an "opportunity" strikes me as utterly tasteless, but it is Our history---it needs to be documented and photography is/has been the means of doing so since it's inception.

    Video is a fine media---the airplanes crashing into the twin towers and the panic in the streets aas the dust clouds blocked out the sun is chilling footage (that needs IMHO, to be seen more) yet a still photograph is something you can hang on your wall and it will tell you something about history, good or bad, 24/7.
    I steal time at 1/125th of a second, so I don't consider my photography to be Fine Art as much as it is petty larceny.

  9. #9

    Join Date
    Apr 2004

    Visiting disaster sites

    A few of the remarks here are simply impressionistic, uninformed.

    Some observations from a former news photographer (me) - Washouts, collapsed roads, exposed infrastructures: Driving inside a flooded area will likely put you into a hole twice as large as your vehicle and then you become part of the problem. Driving through a mildly flooded neighborhood causes waves that the citizens won't appreciate - in the right area a citizen is likely to shoot your ass for that. Besides, you won't find any gas in NO. You will have to have enough to get in and out. Way out.

  10. #10

    Visiting disaster sites

    Some observations from a current news photographer (me). Stay home. Those photojournalists who are there are credentialed and have worked out ways to do their jobs within the confines of the disaster. Most are from there and they are covering their neighbors, friends and loved ones dealing with it. Many are from the wire services and national publications and have vast experience working in war zones and disaster zones. Look at some of the Associated Press photographers' names, for example, and you'll see the same names from the Iraq war. They know what they're doing.

    If you must go there for photographs, wait. The best documentary photographers are waiting. They're letting the initial disaster pass. They'll move into the area with experience and, most importantly, the ability to show respect and dignity to a population who are now reguees. They won't brandish more camera equiment than the B&H showroom. They won't put their careers above the victims.

    They don't go there looking for pictures. They go there to use their pictures to tell a terrible story. Please understand the difference.
    "I meant what I said, not what you heard"--Jflavell

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