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August 20, 2010

Richard Misrach and the Wicked Witch of the Gulf

© Richard Misrach. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, gift of the artist.
© Richard Misrach. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, gift of the artist.

If Richard Misrach’s “After Katrina” graffiti photos donated to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston prove anything, it’s that irony has finally caught up to the Katrina tragedy.

The photo above captures the mood of many in the series. (Here’s a brilliant other one.)  Balanced to make you laugh just when you want to cry, and vice-versa, the “Wicked Witch” not only captures the sense that “we’re not in Kansas, anymore” but drives home — by way of the desolation and the lingering damage — that Kansas will never be seen again.

This photo, though, is darker, more complicated, more suggestive.

Again, playing on ambiguity, I read it — in just two very different, out of who-knows-how-many associations — as a thoroughly bitter statement (‘we’re damned; just erase us’) but also, as a pragmatic call to get the physical and emotional renewal underway.


  • Stan B.

    These timely (timeless?) photographs serve to remind us that these broken homes (and dreams) continue to haunt the lives of very real people, unseen but very much outside the confines of the picture border- not unlike the vast amounts of oil that still inhabit the gulf, beneath the surface.

  • bystander

    I look at these photos from Katrina, think about the Gulf and the people whose lives have been devastated by the BP blowout, and the folks who are the coalmine canaries for climate change – like the monsoons in Pakistan – and then I think about the budget for the Department of Defense, and get physically ill.

    I appreciate the humor of the top photo, and the one to which you linked with the car sitting on the boat, and I marvel at the ability of human beings to endure and persevere with humor. But, Destroy this memory seems to yearn for something else altogether, to me. And, I have an empathy for the darker interpretation.

  • black dog barking

    Normal, the top photo says, depends on who you are when the forces of what come to your neighborhood. After a powerful flood leaves houses in the middle of the street and cars perched on the front porch rail, and then after the sun returns and dries the flood waters and life comes back and you start setting the garbage can out for pickup again … after that scene has a chance to set and become a new normal … you grab a brush and tag this new diorama because it reminds you of an old movie.

    There’s no place like home.

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