Two years ago today, Hurricane Katrina destroyed thousands of homes, business, and lives in America.
Photographer Clayton James Cubitt has personal ties to the Gulf Coast, and his portraits of Katrina survivors are featured in this month's issue of Eyemazing, the international journal of contemporary photography, along with an interview. Snip:
CM: Where were they taken? All of them except for three seem to be taken in a studio-like setting. Why did you choose that rather than shooting the subjects in the context of their surroundings at the time?
CJC: The studio portraits were taken in a former school gymnasium that had been cleared out and cleaned, and was serving as a distribution point for aid in the small Gulf Coast town of Pearlington, Mississippi, which was ground zero for Hurricane Katrina. The whole town was under 30 feet of storm surge, and had to fend for itself with no outside help for almost ten
I wanted to shoot many portraits in a studio context in order to separate these images from the flood of photojournalistic images that came out of New Orleans. I think people have become so jaded as visual consumers that when they see a photograph that's obviously reportage, they immediately shove it into a safe little compartment called "other." This happens in Haiti, or Africa, or Pakistan, not America, and all the images look the same, with the victims of the tragedy filling the same role, that of making Americans feel relieved that they live in America. Well, this is America.
I wanted to short-circuit that automatic filing. I wanted to present these people with the same care and respect I would use when on assignment shooting a portrait of a celebrity or a politician. I think it allows for a lingering appreciation of what they've been through, in small doses, rather than in an overwhelming image of total disaster, which is very hard to really absorb in the two seconds most viewers allot a photograph.
But mostly, I wanted to treat them with the respect they deserve, but never get.