Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Process and Intent

Many people have written asking me how I shot the studio portraits of the Katrina survivors.

First, my intent. I normally shoot fashion and portraiture for magazine and advertising clients. I'm often called upon to make celebrities look heroic. Celebrities aren't heroic. These survivors are. I wanted to make portraits of them that showed their pride, and dignity, and strength, even in such low circumstances. I wanted to show my respect, and love.

Second, my process. The portraits were shot at Charles B. Murphy Elementary School in Pearlington, Ms. The little town was totally wiped out by the storm, and it's people left without anything. The school was one of the only surviving structures in the town, and it's sweltering gymnasium was being used as a distribution point for clothing, food, water, and ice. Hot meals were given out, and medical attention for those that were injured (including my mom) could be gotten at a motor home parked outside.

We talked to survivors who walked in for help. We heard their stories, which took some of the weight off their shoulders. We asked if we could take their portraits. These are people, my people, who aren't used to having people care enough to take their picture. A few were too shy, or felt ashamed at the way they looked, with no sleep, no showers, no home. Most were happy to pose, and brought others.

I had brought a white backdrop to place behind the subjects, as I normally would with celebrities. But because of the hectic nature of the environment, with new supplies being brought in and moved, and people needing help, I decided to just use the gray cinderblock wall, to minimize my footprint and to be as mobile as possible. But I never intended to leave the cinderblocks in. It was important to me that these portraits looked crafted, cared for, and the institutional backdrop looked too much like mugshots. So, the extent of the retouching was removing the backdrop and replacing it with what I would have accomplished in-camera anyway, had the environment been more normal.

The faces were left unretouched, and beautiful.


Anonymous said...

"I wanted to make portraits of them that showed their pride, and dignity, and strength, even in such low circumstances. I wanted to show my respect, and love."

And it shows. When I first visited your Operation Eden blog, I felt touched by how your portraits so deeply honor the folks you photograph. These are good people who have had to experience hardships that most can't even imagine. Your portraits give them back the dignity they deserve.

Anonymous said...

I agree with everything Karen had to say.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your poignant and painful journey. Your words and images will linger with me long after I've closed this page.

Anonymous said...

And they are beautiful... and this whole page is both poignant and beautiful... thank you for putting it here - and I hope you don't mind that I'm passing it along elsewhere.


Anonymous said...

I am ashamed to be represented by a government that has forgotten it’s people. My heart longs for the valor of FDR, as this is no time for Mickey Mouse presidents. But I don’t want to complain here. I want to thank you for helping where we failed to do so. This is powerfull stuff.

Todd Vodka

SoberHope said...

I am so heartbroken, warmed, saddened, full of renewed faith, left reeling, tearful, humbled and exalted by this blog.

There are no sufficient words. None at all.


Anonymous said...

I am from waveland but my parents recently built their retirement home in diamondhead. It may be a different side of the tracks so to speak, but we are all in this together. They are starting from zero, the bank is taking the house and whatever equity they can get. My parents, both school teachers, who had saved for 10 years to build their home are moving into a fema trailer. That is if they ever show up. Thanks so much for the pictures, they are good for the soul. I listened to that Louie Armstrong song a million times this week. I think we both know what it truly means to miss new orleans, or any home along the coast for that matter.

your family is in my prayers.

- matthew ladner

here are the pictures from my neighborhood