Sunday, August 31, 2008

"This could actually be a nasty storm."

I meant to put some of this in my last post, but it was getting pretty lengthy, so I decided against it.

The first one is PBS Frontline: Hurricane Katrina. It offers a good history of the levee construction in addition to the history of FEMA, which I thought was pretty eye-opening. It's only an hour of your life and I think it's extremely worth it. You can find it here.

The second one is a blog written by a person that was holed up in a data center during the storm. It offers an alternative to reading news stories online and I found it really interesting when I was reading it three years ago. Also, during the storm, a webcam was running almost 24 hours a day to show the state of the city, unedited, before it was watered down by news organizations. You can find it here.

Also, as a side note: be nice to your local recording studio if you want to save lots of money on things like field recorders.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


On American Experience: New Orleans
I think I learned more about the history of New Orleans in two hours than I've known my entire life. Granted, I know a lot more of the current history of New Orleans, specifically the police corruption during the early 1990's when 60 police officers got charged with various felonies. Some of the history of the oil corruption in the Gulf Coast region, I had also been aware of, just like the oil corruption elsewhere. More recently, I've been very aware of the whole situation surrounding Hurricane Katrina, including, not surprisingly, more police corruption and another lesson in how the government manages disasters poorly.
I think the part that I found the most interesting is how the city was before the Jim Crow laws were enacted. Blacks and whites intermingled in a way that, even by today's standards, was remarkable. That was one thing that really impressed me, because as a city, it was decades before its time. When the city was forced to comply with Jim Crow Laws, however, a city that had been so open since the beginning was bastardized. As a result of that, I think we can attribute many of today's problems in New Orleans on racism within America, long after the city was founded.
After the Jim Crow laws were enacted, the blacks and white were separated from each other, resulting in the lower 9th ward being populated by black people. The lower 9th ward was also very susceptible to flooding, as it was, in many places 15 feet below sea level. The depressing part, in my opinion, is how quickly the city went from "anything goes" to "anything goes as long as blacks and whites are separate". After the Jim Crow laws were repealed, however, it seems very little progress was made to work past the color divide.
Even in more recent years, with Mayor Ray Nagin at the helm, it's clear that white people identify with him more than black people. In his 2002 election, Nagin received 85% of the white vote and 40% of the black vote. Less than half of the black people living in New Orleans identify with a black mayor, perhaps thinking of him as more of a white man with dark skin than a black man. This could have further fueled tensions between the administration and the people of the lower 9th ward, immediately following Katrina.
Additionally, the people of the lower 9th ward may have seen Nagin's defense of the black people as ingenuine due to the reasons described above, but also due to the fairly impotent response to the disaster. It's hard for me, as an outsider, to not understand why the people of the lower 9th ward thought they weren't a high priority, even though they were the most affected. Economically speaking, they probably weren't a top priority. If you want to crunch the hard numbers, the cost of repairs is probably more than they're ever going to make back in taxes or FEMA funding. Unfortunately, the people in charge don't see the intellectual and cultural value of the city as much as the residents that inhabit it.
How do you weigh the intellectual value of a group of human beings? And how does that balance out with their economic contributions? What are the moral implications of employing such cold, harsh equations? How do the interests of others, within the city, play into the decision? Would there be a different reaction if we were living in the times of a more free, less racist, New Orleans? Will any of us ever get answers to these questions?

On Shelby Lee Adams:
Appalachia is somewhat of an anomaly. It's a region of the United States that's characterized by its incredible poverty and its commitment to agricultural living. Within the entire region, approximately the size of the United Kingdom, there are only two major cities: Knoxville, TN and Pittsburgh, PA. Economic progress has been made in the region, but 108 counties within the region are considered to be beyond help, compared to 219 in 1960. A commitment to rural values has hampered attempts to bring industry to the region, both by the Appalachian Regional Commission and the federal government.
This film pulled me in a lot of different directions. I could understand the intentions of the photographer and I could understand why people might object. In the end, though, I couldn't decide who I agree with. There are certain values that I will never fully understand as an outsider and I believe anybody that claims to understand, fully, the gravity of all opinions presented in the film is not of sound mind. This would be the same if the people of Appalachia came to Minneapolis. The cultures don't necessarily intermix. Our capitalist, metropolitan society has much to learn about rural, agricultural life.
First, I had to acknowledge that Shelby has knowledge that I don't have and wasn't presented in the film. Therefore, I have to trust him as a higher authority. Additionally, I cannot look at the artwork produced by Adams with the same eyes as I look at a piece of art created within a capitalist, metropolitan environment. Many of the photos I saw were very human and were done very tastefully. Others, I found very strange and, sometimes, almost manipulative of their situation.
One thing I had to keep in mind, however, was that essentially all of these were tableuas, so Adams is taking a higher control of the situation than a documentary photographer typically would. This is especially evident with his choice to use a large format camera system, which I don't typically associate with taking spur-of-the-moment photos. Some also employed lighting, which is taking even more control of the situation and also taking more time for the photographic process. So I had to understand that all of these were very carefully setup. This, in my opinion, takes them out of the documentary photography world and into the fine art world. This basically nullifies any argument that these should be taken seriously as documentary photos. This work is merely an interpretation of how these people live.
So if they are an interpretations, then is he taking advantage of these people? Not necessarily. As long as the people being photographed and the viewer understand that it is a highly interpretive photo of these peoples' lives, then I think the "manipulation card" cannot be played. I think the disconnect is where he represents his work as a factual document. That's what really bothers me and others featured in the film. To simply name your book Appalachia is inviting viewers to believe this is an accurate representation of the region. Unless the creative process is thoroughly explained in the book or viewers of the book have seen the documentary, then I have to disagree with the work being produced, despite its inherent technical and creative qualities.
Don't lose faith on me now, though, I'm not damning his work. There are accurate events (you can't really fake a funeral) portrayed within his work and that's to his credit. However, the representation of those accurate events is where, I believe, the intention changed from portraying these events accurately and representing these events stylistically. Whether or not that is moral or immoral is up for debate. I'd love to hear what others think.

1. How has the church taken over social services where FEMA and local government have fallen short?
2. How has the church contributed to the reconstruction efforts.
3. How has the closure and subsequent reopening of the streetcar lines affected transportation.
4. What is the public opinion of nursing homes and other care facilities following the death of several elderly during Katrina?
5. How have city facilities, such as hospitals, public works, etc. recovered
6. What is the public opinion of the police following Katrina?
7. What happened to the animals left behind during Katrina? How have local humane societies dealt with abandoned animals?
8. How are city officials dealing with abandoned homes? How is this inhibiting reconstruction efforts?
9. How have local restaurants recovered?
10. How has Katrina disrupted the local music scene?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The cat has gnawed its way out of the burlap sack.

The cat is out of the bag, people!
I know I was able to hide it for a long time and I know a lot of people, including my closest peers, are going to be shocked (shocked!) about this little nugget of information that my academic director uncovered on Thursday. a cynic. I know some of you are devastated by this news, and frankly, I am too. I'm trying to cope with it and I hope all of you will help me through these dark and troubling times.
Moving on.
Another idea that had popped into my head was not only the idea of recorded interviews, but also the idea recording roundtable discussions with the rest of the NOLA team, both in state and possibly beforehand. The purpose of this would be to discuss the following topics:
1. What we had all been shooting that day.
2. The successes of the day.
3. The failures of the day.
4. New things we had learned.
5. Our general reactions of what we had experienced that day.
Of course, this would be open to everybody that wants to participate, provided the table is large enough. I personally believe that interviewing ourselves will be just as valuable as interviewing others. This will also document our changing opinions and ideas about what we are experiencing down there. If anybody is interested, I'd absolutely love to hear your input.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Don't call it a comeback.

Hello, my name is Ryan and I'll be your blogger for the next few minutes.
I hail from the region known as the Western 'burbs and if you need more details than that, my "About Me" section, which will inevitably be renamed by the time you read this, will almost certainly inform you. At the end of high school, I was entirely convinced that I was going to be an electrical engineer, but then I discovered I actually had to "know things" (or so they told me) and decided to enter the mystical, magical world of photography. Seriously though, I don't regret the decision at all and I would absolutely do it again. Since then, I've been "doing stuff with the camera", as they say in a certain studio class, with varying degrees of success.

So what do I do with the camera, you might be thinking to yourself? Well, the current trends are as follows:
1. Square format. Let's face it, guys, all the cool kids are doing it.
2. Vivid blues and greens. This is starting to phase out the flat, 1960's sitcom coloration that dominated many of my now older projects.
3. Longer depth of field. I do still love taking pictures at f/1.4 and short depth of field is certainly something I still experiment with, but I think it's time to let f/4 and f/8 have their time to shine. After all, fair is fair.
4. Better lighting. With the acquisition of sturdier light stands and a few boom stands, my on location lighting has improved. I'm no lighting master, I'll admit, but as I gather some more goodies, changes will be made accordingly.
5. More post-production. A little bit can go a long way.

So now that you've got all these neato trends, what are you going to do with them? I've got some ideas pinballing around.
1. Bus drivers.
2. Document how the church is making efforts to rebuild in post-Katrina New Orleans.
3. Continuing the mutuality idea, pictured below. I realize it's a pretty naff photo, but I like it as a proof of concept. I'd very much like to have a very similar sort of set up with other willing couples. The mutual nature of relationships really intrigues me and I don't think I'll be able to settle it by simply waiting for the idea to float away.

4. Environmental pictures, such as the one below. I think I could certainly get better at them if I did more of them on a fairly regular basis.

5. Conduct more interviews while taking pictures. I've always wanted to go to New Orleans with some means of recording interviews and then putting them up here for readers to listen to. I definitely still want to do that, but I'm not sure how feasible it is.

This concludes the list-making portion of this particular blog post. On my other blog that I've been maintaing for nearly four years now, I always end with a transcription of the lyrics to a song that I've recently enjoyed. The formatting of this blog doesn't necessarily allow for that, so I'll have have to come up with some sort of fitting conclusion to each one of these blog postings. Suggestions?