Saturday, September 30, 2006

Art of Intrusion

When tragedy strikes, what is your first reaction? Do you rush to help, stay out of the way of rescue workers, or grab your camera? Photographer Robert Polidori did the later documenting the devastation left in the wake of Katrina, with a small selection (24 photos) on view at the Met through December 10th in an exhibit titled New Orleans after the Flood.

True, recording history is an important calling. However, there is something disturbing about Polidori’s pictures beyond and apart from the destruction they show. Much of the work on display and many of the additional photos included in the exhibit catalog capture the wreckage from inside private homes. Viewing them feels like an intrusion into someone’s personal suffering. Polidori uses the addresses of these homes as his titles, which feels like a further invasion of a stranger’s privacy. Particularly intrusive was a photo from a house on Cartier Avenue (number withheld) which showed family pictures, including a woman in uniform, and a now ruined organ, which was probably once the center of family celebrations. One can easily imagine the family on Cartier would feel violated to see their home, including identifiable family photos, on display under their actual street address.

One wonders, did Polidori get permission to shoot in every house he photographed? No details in the catalog (at least not that I saw skimming it in the Museum). Too often it seems people want to use New Orleans residents as props in their political morality play, losing sight of their essential humanity. One certainly sees that kind of vampirism in the Polidori exhibit. Perusing his pictures too often feels unforgivably intrusive, adding insult to the injury suffered by the people of New Orleans.