A German newspaper is publishing some of my photos from my series REMNANTS: AFTER THE STORM. Here are some excerpts from the interview:
1. When did you do the pictures for "Remnants Katrina" an how often did you go to New Orleans for doing them?
I went to New Orleans on two trips. The first was 6 weeks after Hurricane Katrina in October 2005. The second trip was in April 2006. Each trip was about 10-14 days.
2. Why did you decide for this project? Why did you go there? What was your motivation, what were your ideas before you got there?
I don’t think I ever decide on a project or consciously choose to do a project. Honestly, I don’t really feel I have a choice in the matter, the project sort of chooses me. In this case it started with the Tsunami in January 2005. I just couldn’t get past the wide spread devastation. Day after day I was glued to the TV watching what to me was the most horrifying event in my 30 years. I decided I wanted to help, I wanted to be involved in the recovery effort but I didn’t know how to get involved. Two weeks later I decided I had to go there and I’d bring my camera too. I wanted to show my view of the situation in the small island of Sri Lanka.
I get a certain feeling or instinct when I see something that makes me want to set up my 4x5 camera and transform or render the scene with the camera. It’s not a thought but more of an emotion. This project on the tsunami is what lead me to document people’s lives after the floods of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and surrounding areas.
I had no idea what to expect after Hurricane Katrina. I try not to arrive with expectations but rather be drawn effortlessly to scenes that interest me deep in my soul. Being there was very different than Sri Lanka because it was a ghost town. Every neighborhood I visited in New Orleans was completely abandoned. The only things that remained were people’s personal belongings. That’s when I began to really be drawn to these items. They told the story of the people, their interests, and their culture. As well, it shows that this could just as easily happen to anyone of us. It is easy to relate to losing one’s quilt, or personal files, or books, and other items that we all have in our homes.
3. How do you see yourself in this project? More as a journalist, who documents the horror or more as an artist who also records the beauty within the destruction?
I definitely see my photographs as artistic documentary. I do not alter the images so they are truthful documents but I do capture a sense of beauty within the horror. Many people have referred to the images as being “hauntingly beautiful”. I am not as interested in showing the whole picture or the longer timeline. My interest is in giving a sense of the people who were effected by this natural disaster, as seen through their belongings and personal spaces. The viewer should feel the people when looking at these photos. They are present through their remains, it’s almost like archeology of lost civilizations.
4. How did you feel while you were doing the pictures and what is the feeling like when you are confronted with that work today?
Everyday that I photographed in New Orleans was like the first day. I never got used to the unfathomable level of destruction and emptiness. As well, I never got used to the depression I felt when I entered someone’s mold infested house, church, or school and saw all of their possessions ruined and sitting there under layers of mud and mold. Everyday I imagined driving to a point where on one side would be unaffected by the storm and the other side would show the destruction. I never found that line, it seemed to be endless.
I could only stay in New Orleans for about 10 days because I begin to have nightmares that I am sleeping within the muddy debris of people’s homes and lives.
When I look at my photographs today, I feel they are successful recordings and interpretations of this tragedy. But they don’t effect me in the same way as being there did. There will never be any comparison in my view. My photographs, nor anyone else’s, can’t ever show how saddening and depressing this situation was and is.