Sunday, October 08, 2006

Of surveys and photographs ...

About the size of Shreveport

Repopulation projections by Mayor Ray Nagin turn out to be a bit too optimistic according to a new survey. It estimates a current population of 187,525, or about 41 percent of the 454,000 people estimated to be living in Orleans Parish before the storm hit Aug. 29, 2005.

A spokeswoman for the Louisiana Recovery Authority, Natalie Wyeth, called the results "the definitive, most precise set of numbers we've seen." The survey was conducted for the authority and the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals by the Louisiana Public Health Institute.

New Orleans as our modern Pompeii?

Michael Kimmelman, reporting in the International Herald Tribune, invites us to a photography exhibit in New York:

After Hurricane Katrina, Robert Polidori went to New Orleans, where he lived years ago, to shoot photographs of the devastation for The New Yorker magazine. He stayed longer than first planned, then went back again and again, for weeks, taking hundreds of pictures with a large-format camera that produced wide, superbly detailed color photographs. The camera was awkward to manipulate through the wreckage and in the heat, without electricity and lights.

At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in an exhibit that runs through Dec. 10, Jeff Rosenheim, a photography curator, has selected a couple of dozen of these big panoramas and interiors to make a pocket-size lament for a woebegone city.

They are unpeopled scenes: New Orleans as our modern Pompeii.

Polidori shot many photographs of interiors (on the whole less memorable because less emblematic than the exteriors), where soaked ceiling fans droop like wilted daisies and caked mud has turned bedrooms into Martian topographies; each is a voyeur's opportunity to check out the family goods, but also a memorial. The colors ravish.

It's fashionable among some artists today to stage cinematic pictures that look gothic and otherworldly, like Hollywood film stills. Polidori found real barges lifted onto real embankments, bayous where streets used to be, insulation like rendered whale blubber in giant mounds on sidewalks, SUVs propped against houses like flying buttresses and bungalows crumpled like balls of paper.

He also photographed signs of recovery: trailers and construction equipment; a few historic homes, stripped to their frames, on the verge of new life.

These are photographs, in other words, without nostalgia, as Rosenheim writes in a short introduction to Polidori's book, "After the Flood," but with "something of the air that generations of anonymous New Orleanians had breathed in and out." They make "no attempt to excavate what went wrong in New Orleans or why the state and federal response remains even today predisposed to cronyism, gross fraud and corruption." They simply testify, as Rosenheim puts it, "to a city that care forgot."

It's good of the Met to remind us.


jbv's Competitive Edge 


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