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Hurricane Katrina and the Power of Photography

As many of you probably have been, I've been overwhelmed by the destruction of New Orleans and the United States gulf coast. Between the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina itself and that caused by the disappointing federal response to it as well as the now evident lack of adequate planning for it, the devastation has been beyond belief. The area has suffered both a natural disaster as well as a man made one.

Rather than dwell on all that contributed to this catastrophe though, I wanted to take time out this week to remark on the power of photography. Despite all the daily descriptions of flooding and complications printed in the newspapers and elsewhere it is the photos that have had the biggest impact on me. Words simply can not to justice to what took place over the past two weeks. Words can convey context and provide background information, but only once you have seen images of what took place does the scope of all this actually register.

Apart from the fact that I enjoy being out in nature, one of the main things that drive me to do what I do is an understanding of the power of photography to have an impact on how people view the world around them. Most people never have the opportunity or at least take the opportunity to see the beauty that is nature. I hope that by photographing it and making it available to a wider audience, more people will value it enough to preserve it. Yet photographs taken in a time of crisis such as the Katrina disaster have an even greater visceral impact. There is an immediacy to seeing images of fellow Americans suffering so, a connection to what is obviously possible (though you never thought it could be) from seeing photos of massive damage and flooding, an impact that can change people's outlook and opinions on things like nothing else can.

Undoubtedly in recognition of this fact, CNN filed suit in federal court on Friday to prevent any agency from blocking news media access to film in New Orleans and surrounding areas. Federal emergency officials had earlier tried to bar coverage of the disaster zone and recovery efforts in order to stem the tide of negative publicity but backed down rather than fight the lawsuit. What was at issue here was the power of photography. This is an important story and photography can tell it like nothing else can.

I hope there will be a full accounting of how this hurricane was allowed to become an even more deadly event that will take years to recover from. For now though, please do what you can to support relief efforts by giving to the Red Cross and other agencies.

When out photographing, most of us won't find ourselves in situations where the stakes are so high that we'd be willing to go to court for our right to cover what is going on. But we can make a difference by doing what we do. Even if in just some small way, what is important to us gets conveyed in what we photograph. Make it count.

Date posted: September 11, 2005


Copyright © 2005 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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