Rising Waters: Photographs of Hurricane Sandy, International Center of Photography

In a two-story house on Governor’s Island, Rising Waters: Photographs of Hurricane Sandy presents prints and slides of black and white and colour photographs shot throughout the New York area during the storm of 2012. Pinned to the walls in somewhat thematic groups 100 8” x 10” prints fill two rooms on the first floor. With no clear entry point to the exhibit, it can be accessed by either of two doors.

While there is no designation of photographers as professional or amateur within the exhibition, it may be a safe assumption to believe that the images including written messages within the frame such as, “Demand The Sand” or a reward notice for a lost parrot, are those taken within the community. And it is these community narratives that rightfully formally open the show in a group of 12 pictures.

Following are themes of play and dishevelment, order and despair, irony and fortitude, all embodied in documentation and artistry with a healthy dose of journalistic imagery that is clearly influenced by the genre of street photography. In addition, within the pictures clearly taken by more professional practitioners, there is a certain specificity in the use of light and the mapping of space reminiscent of the 20th-century American landscape photographic tradition. Many of these photos are also painterly and modern.

None of the images are titled, except perhaps by locale and year. Ed Kashi’s Jersey City, New Jersey image of lower Manhattan, with its straight lines and curves is a geometric assemblage of architecture, water and artifacts with prisms of intense colour reminiscent of the Bauhaus work of Kandinsky. Bob Bowne’s Ocean Grove, New Jersey monochromatic image of a pier overcome by a wall of ocean is both stunning, in its mastery of texture and light, and awe inspiring in its projection of the force and gravity of Nature. The Financial District, Manhattan colour photo by Rene Van Wonderen is of a street functioning temporarily as a still river running a few feet deep. It is lush and the water carries the reflective quality of glass, which infers that this representation of “reality” is almost too perfectly manicured to appear real. Like James Rosenquist’s Gift Wrapped Doll series, the subject sparkles such as to be wrapped in plastic.

Up a somewhat dirty and soggy set of stairs and down a bit of corridor is the digital slideshow of additional images submitted by International Center of Photography students, alumni, staff and faculty. The room housing the slideshow, like the rest of the house, is comprised of pale yellowish walls of greatly flaking paint. As air circulates through the somewhat stuffy room, light enters intermittently through the bottom of the windows made dark with black cloth. The 100 or so images on an approximately 20 minute time cycle cover the subject matter with more intimacy using a larger percentage of portraits of people living and working in the post-storm environment. An eerie soundtrack of songs plays in another room on the second floor, accompanying the pictures like a ghost. Intentionally curated or otherwise, the experience brings with it a discomfort that is only a snapshot of the pain felt by those who experienced the brunt of the storm.

Rising Waters is at once an often rewarding aesthetic experience and a documentary of what could be called a tragedy. However, rather than evoking tension between the two forms of visual expression, it draws them together in one simultaneous moment, as if to say that life and art are one. This same moment also seems to uncover a time where past, present and future become one, and perhaps the art-as-function component of this exhibition is to remind audiences to be better stewards of available resources.

Rising Waters: Photographs of Hurricane Sandy, until September 29, International Center of Photography in collaboration with the Museum of the City of New York at Governor’s Island, Building 19, Nolan Park, New York, NY 10004.

Odette Gregory

1. Christina Santucci, Untitled, 2012. © Christina Santucci/TimesLedger Newspapers.
2. Amy Medina, Once Again. 2012. © Amy Medina (DangRabbit).
3. Ed Kashi, Untitled, 2012. Staten Island after Hurricane Sandy, November © Ed Kashi / VII.