September 6, 2005
Blinded By The Light?
Wednesday, August 31st
Thursday, September 1st
Thursday, September 1st
Friday, September 2nd
Friday, September 2nd
Saturday, September 3rd
Certainly, most of the Katrina images last week were unvarnished and pulled no punches. At the same time, however, I’m wondering how much of what we saw was still edited according to the taste of a mainstream viewing audience (MSVA?) that tends to alternate in disaster preference between sensationalism and denial.
To illustrate, I go back to where I began in focusing on the Katrina disaster: The New Orleans Superdome. Years from now, when the country looks back on "the events of August 28th; 29th; 30th, etc.," I wonder if they will recognize The Superdome (in combination with the Convention Center) as the "ground zero" or the emotional epicenter of the disaster. To what extent will this site still be recalled as a monument for the failure to stand up for the country’s most weak and vulnerable? Alternatively, we might also ask how much and for how long the Superdome might even remain a significant part of the recollection. (If you look at the latest cover of The Economist, for example, notice how the Superdome and the Convention Center merge with the city in a gauzy background.)
In questioning whether the painful memory of the Superdome will be honored and preserved, I can’t help wondering if the recording and preservation of the event was largely inhibited from the start.
Because I was focused on The Superdome from the beginning of the crisis, I scanned the media every day for visual evidence of the trauma, fear and squalor inside that stadium. (And Now We Are In Hell — Link). Somehow, however, I just never came across images of the despair as so painfully described in the written accounts.
Finally, on Saturday morning — coinciding with the near-total evacuation of the building — I decided to go back through the YahooNews photos (using the search terms "Katrina" and "Superdome") to find the images I must have missed which would illustrate "life" inside that building over those past five days. Starting from Saturday and working backward, I went through all 200+ newswire photos until I arrived at Monday, August 29 — which was the point at which people began filling up the stadium.
What I discovered was disturbing but not surprising.
All I found were more of these beautiful (some might even say almost
spiritual or mystical) depictions of the sun’s rays piercing the dome
(with most evidence of decrepitude or suffering left to the margins,
usually at "ant size" scale). Beyond these remote, long angle shots, I
only came upon a single close up from inside the building after Tuesday. (The picture showed a fairly clean man posing while holding up a sign for help.)
So my question is, weren’t any "non-romanticized" photos
taken inside the Dome after the first day or so? And if so, why haven’t
we seen any? And if not, why not?
Certainly, there were quite a few news photographers inside the
building throughout the week. Would these intrepid people argue that
photos could only be taken from a symbolic Green Zone? And what about amateur
images? I understand most local residents arrived with next-to-nothing,
but what about those tourists who still had their luggage? In light of
the images that emerged during the London subway attacks, is it
possible there weren’t even any cell phone photos?
Or, is it that the media (serious or tabloid) didn’t care to offer the cash to uncover such pictures?
Finally, I had a few observations about these poetic images themselves.
Considering the almost biblical nature of these pictures, I
couldn’t help wondering what happened to the major voices of the
Christian right last week. Watching the wretched scenes from the outside of these fated buildings, I thought: If there ever was a moment (let alone, a whole week) where the terms "Pro-Life" or "Compassionate Conservatism" came into play, it was this one.
Regarding the mass media, I applaud the efforts of journalists, editors
and correspondents (many working for heavily anesthetized Bush-era news
organizations) who stuck their necks out further and opened their eyes
wider than they have in a long time. However, intense trauma is always
going to disturb a lethargy. Short of that, the inclination to convert
inhumanity into art or spectacle is something one must fight every day.
As I look at these haunting photos, however, there’s a place in the
back of my mind that keeps thinking about Abu Ghraib. Marveling at
these beautiful beams of light — like the fingers of God — I wonder
how things would have differed if the Abu Ghraib photos had been taken
on a brilliantly sunny day, next to windows, from at least fifty yards
(image 1: STAFF PHOTO/ DAVID GRUNFELD.
Louisiana Superdome. Wednesday, August 31, 2005. NOLA.com. image 2a:
Marko Georgiev for The New York Times. New Orleans Superdome. September
1, 2005. NYT.com. image 2b: Khampha Bouaphanh — Fort Worth
Star-Telegram. Thursday, September 1, 2005. At WAPO.com. image 3a.)
REUTERS/Jason Reed. Louisiana Superdome. September 2, 2005. YahooNews.
image 3b. Jason Reed/Reuters. Louisiana Superdome. September 2, 2005.
YahooNews. image 4: Tyler Hicks/The New York Times. September 3, 2005.
New Orleans Superdome. New York Times page A11 and nyt.com.)