But the most important question for this “family album” will be to what extent we can enlarge our notion of family. If viewed as happening to the “other,” then much of this imagery—whether joyous or painful—will be ignored by those not directly affected. If, on the other hand, we see ourselves as mutually dependent, both happy for each other’s successes and attentive to each other’s welfare, then even the harshest imagery created by communities of their own distress can serve a purpose.
Fred Ritchin, professor at NYU and co-director of the Photography & Human Rights Program at Tisch in an article for TIME LightBox on Hurricane Sandy, One Year Later.
He discusses the growing practice of and potential for communities to portray themselves through photography, be it professionals having access to a larger audience through the web, or amateurs using their mobile phones to capture events.
Instagram, for example, allows professionals and amateurs alike to immediately upload images; during Hurricane Sandy last year, ten photos tagged to the storm were uploaded every second; 800,000 pictures were uploaded in all. In contrast, the monumental, multi-year Farm Security Administration program created during the New Deal that focused on American rural poverty with photographers such as Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Russell Lee, Gordon Parks, Arthur Rothstein and Ben Shahn, produced roughly 250,000 images total.
While Instagram as a photographic and journalistic medium has its critics, one of its positive features is the fact that users can see only one photo at a time on their phone, which, Ritchin points out, provides the viewer a type of respite from the visual chaos of the web. At a time when increasing numbers of citizens around the world are documenting everything from war to human rights atrocities to their daily lives, a coherent way to filter this imagery is missing. Not all disasters are the same, he writes:
Whereas Hurricane Sandy was a catastrophe that those in the Northeastern United States suffered through together, sharing each other’s vulnerability, other circumstances may be more problematic. What might have been the result if those trapped inside the World Trade Towers on September 11 had possessed cellphone cameras? Would it have been enlightening for others on the outside if they were able to distribute images of their terrible predicament, or would large amounts of such first-person imagery have provoked an ugly voyeurism amounting to re-victimization? Would these images have further increased the trauma for a horrified, largely powerless public to even more intolerable levels, and with it the calls for vengeance?
Our task is two-fold: 1) “to develop practical applications for this abundance of imagery” and 2) to find ways to make this “family album” that stretches the world over accessible to us, in our media consumption cycles as something other than an overload of imagery lest it cause “an even greater distancing from events” due to our inability to process the abundance.
All that in mind, view the photo essay "Hurricane Sandy, One Year Later: Self-Portraits of Communities in Distress" here.
You can sense when somebody wants something. It’s all about energy exchange, it’s not about words. That’s what I learned from doing Humans of New York. Somebody’s willingness to let me photograph them, and willingness to tell me a story, has nothing to do with the words I say. It all has to do with the energy I’m giving off, which hopefully is very genuine, very interested energy. It’s It’s just two people having a conversation in the street. I think that’s where genuine content comes from.
Brandon began the project in the summer of 2010 in an effort “to construct a photographic census of New York City”. Originally, the idea was to plot the photos on map, but after speaking with 10,000 strangers (New Yorkers and visitors to NYC), he decided to turn the project into a blog which features a portrait of each person, accompanied with a quote or short story from them. Humans of New york has nearly 1.5 million Facebook fans, over 33,000 Twitter followers and Tumblr posts with notes in the thousands.