Tag Archives: Devastation

Honey Lazar: The Year My Sisters Died

I first met Ohio photographer, Honey Lazar when I curated a photograph of her knees into a self portrait exhibition at the PhotoPlace Gallery in Vermont.  She wrote to me and we began a correspondence and a friendship. Honey has a wide body of many wonderful projects, including her book, Loving Aunt Ruth, that celebrates a very wise woman. I had the great pleasure of spending some time with Honey in Chicago at the Filter Photo Festival and felt somewhat helpless as she shared that both of her sisters had passed away this year, creating such a profound sense of loss and devastation that she was struggling just to be in the world.  
As we all know, art is often a form of therapy, and Honey has created a series of images that describe what it feels like to be frozen in grief, not wanting to get out of the sanctuary of bed and finding solace from the television screen and the bedroom window.  These images, all shot from her bed, serve as Honey’s visual diary through loss, transition, and mourning.

The Year My Sisters
Died
I considered myself to be comfortable with the subject of
death and dying. I really “got” the termination thing.  My father died when I was 3, and my
grandparents were gone before I turned 10.  I worked in a hospital HIV unit in the 80’s.  I was seasoned. 
My father, a gifted and prolific photographer/film maker
left behind a legacy of photographs that kept him alive for me.  Photographs equaled immortality.  At 13, I picked up a Brownie Starflash
and snapped pictures of everything I wanted to keep forever.  The Starflash became a Polaroid, and I
used it to photograph everyone who came to my house.  I traded Polaroid for Kodachrome when my first son was born.
My bookshelves of albums are proof that during those years
no one left me.

 My middle sister, Jane, was diagnosed with rheumatoid
arthritis when I was 24, and she was 30. Jane and I were very close.  She lived in CT; I live in OH, but I visited often and called
daily.  I idolized her.  Before disease took her hair, teeth,
and mobility, people mistook her for Kim Novak or Marilyn Monroe.  She had pins put into her toes, so she
could wear shoes, but eventually, her toes curled, she stopped walking, and
shoes were simply decoration on a girl who never lost hope.  She ran her life from her bed
surrounded by windows.  She was an
artist who never stopped creating. 

I have another sister, Phyllis. …had another sister,
Phyllis.  She was 11 years older
than I, and I idolized her as well. 
She was super smart.  She
graduated from Pratt where she was snow queen and designed dresses for 25
years.  She taught me everything I
know about style and composition.

Phyllis moved to New York 5 years ago to live closer to her
daughters and granddaughters.  She
sold her house, packed her car, and faced an unknown housing situation with
gusto. I took a lot of pictures of her house being packed and the moving van
taking her away.  I’d be fine
without her, filling my sad places with her happiness and looking at photo
memories. 

On Phyllis’s 71st birthday she was diagnosed with
pancreatic cancer, 2 years after moving to New York. While Phyllis was being
treated, Jane was hospitalized 5 times with pneumonia, and we barely noticed.
Pneumonia didn’t seem serious in the face of pancreatic
cancer… except to Jane,
who felt exhausted, terrified, and alone.

Phyllis died in October, and in July, Jane was hospitalized
with pneumonia…for the last time.  I
was with both of my sisters when they died. It turns out I am not so good at
termination. 

Illness forced my beautiful
and active sisters into a horizontal life.  They were television watchers and HSN shoppers.  I find comfort and a connection to them
in this position, television on with my window worldview.  A horizontal life is a universal
experience.  Illness, depression,
and disability create lateral living, and I suspect each of us has either known
someone in this position or perhaps has been supine as well.

 I am in mourning with my camera right here next to me on the
bed.

Flooded, Uprooted, Burned: The Tracks of Sandy on the Shore

After TIME commissioned me, along with four other photographers, to capture Hurricane Sandy using Instagram, I and many of my colleagues felt a deep personal need to go back and document the aftermath. I’ve covered disasters in other parts of our country, but this is my hometown, and Sandy was a storm of historical significance. I’ve often found that there is great power in telling difficult stories in a beautiful way. Interest in any given story wanes so quickly, yet it’s only through taking the time to go deeper that we get to a place of real understanding. I had to return to this story, and I wanted try to comprehend the scale of this storm. The only way for me to capture Sandy’s destructive fury was from above.

Stephen Wilkes for TIME

Storm surges over power the coastal areas and flood the streets during low tide in Milford, CT.

On the Sunday after Sandy made landfall, I decided to rent a helicopter and fly over some of the most devastated areas, including the New Jersey shore, Breezy Point and Far Rockaway. It was a beautiful day to fly, but unfortunately that beauty quickly eroded into shock as we began to get close to the coasts. It was everything I’d heard about, but it was difficult to believe what I was actually seeing. Once we got above the shoreline, I really started to understand the scale of the destruction. The expanse of land it ruined, the totality of the devastation — it was like a giant mallet had swung in circles around the area. It was mind numbing.

When I got home that night, the images still in my mind made it impossible to sleep. Through various points of this storm, it felt like we were all living through a science fiction movie. Seeing these devastated towns from above showed the cold reality of this storm’s severity.

From above, I realized how close particular neighborhoods were to bays or oceans. Sometimes, it was a matter of two blocks, and it’s a proximity not immediately apparent when you’re on the ground. In Breezy Point, for example, I knew that more than 80 homes had burned down in a fire, but nothing could have prepared me for what I actually saw. The blackened and charred blocks of homes viewed as a giant physical scar across the landscape. Seeing how much land was affected and yet how many homes were saved, made me think of the firefighters and how hard they must have worked just to contain this fire.

In flying over Staten Island, I was really struck by the marina, and how the boats were physically lifted from the pier and tossed together. It looked like a child’s game—huge, 40-ft. boats being thrown around like toys. We then flew over Oakwood, where I saw a house that had been lifted and dragged through a field of cattails; its path clearly visible days later, having left a trail of destruction through the cattails.

Sandy was a warning shot. I’ve had a unique view of what’s happened on a physical level. But the emotional toll has yet to be measured. It’s my hope that these images serve as a wakeup call — whether that call is about global warming, infrastructure, or just the recognition that the world is changing, it’s a reminder that we need to take special care of our fragile world.


Stephen Wilkes is a fine-art and commercial photographer based in New York. Wilkes was awarded the Photo District News Award of Excellence in 2011 and 2012.

Wilkes’ work will be part of Art for Sandy, a fundraising initiative to support Sandy relief that’s being hosted by 20×200 and TIME.



Sandy’s Aftermath: Devastation in Staten Island by Eugene Richards

TIME assigned photographer Eugene Richards to document the devastation on Staten Island following Superstorm Sandy. Over four days, Richards recorded the total destruction in the communities along the island’s South Shore, illustrating the storm’s deep impact across the entire borough.

Richards spoke to LightBox producer Vaughn Wallace about his experience on assignment. Their conversation has been edited.

Vaughn Wallace: Talk to me about first arriving on Staten Island.

Eugene Richards: The first set of pictures that we had are out in a swamp. It was a very surreal marsh, covered with what looked like totally submerged houses. About a half mile into this area, we found this woman — totally alone — standing there. Her name was Susan. I didn’t want to intrude — I think she was trying to contemplate the tragedy, the same way everybody is. She proceeded to kneel down on what was the roof of her father’s house…over one of the rooms.

Little American flags were appearing all over the place on Staten Island — I think out of desperation. Also I think it was a protest, because people were getting very angry at what they felt was a lack of services. I’d say 30% of the homes had flags on them in some capacity. They kept popping up – people would try to find flags and raise them on broomsticks in the middle of the street.

VW: You saw the flags as symbols of protest?

ER: As symbols of defiance. We were talking constantly with people about how the mood was so scarily positive. Everyone else said it was just positive, but we thought that underneath it was a level of shock that will settle in — people were working to help each other non-stop.

This area seemed like a neighborhood of particularly hardworking and professional people — they set to work right away, tearing out the insides of their houses with an energy that was amazing. They reminded me of worker bees. They were working very, very hard until the homes ultimately became shells.

VW: In some of these photographs, we see what you’re referencing. But what can we not see?

ER: What you can’t see in the photographs is the language. One of the more revealing pictures is of a man named Kevin working on Cedar Grove Ave. We went up to his house and there was a flag out front and a note about the marathon to people in the neighborhood — everyone was very mad that the marathon was going to happen.

And then out of the basement came this guy. We were very shy about approaching him — covered with dirt, steam coming off his head in the cold, with he and his wife cleaning out their entire house onto the pavement. He chose to write ‘Thanks Sandy’ on his house rather than the profanity that many would have written.

This is the way everyone was — [an attitude] you can’t see in the pictures. To feel the graciousness of everyone was surprising. Nobody was telling jokes, nobody was laughing, but there was much kindness. That’s what doesn’t show here: the calm utility of the people.

VW: How would you describe the disaster you witnessed over the weekend?

ER: In many cases, I think it’s the end of a way of life — the innocence is gone. Cedar Grove Beach — it was kind of a secret. You were close to the beach and it was beautiful…a very special opportunity for people who aren’t particularly wealthy to live a pretty good life.

Maybe that’s what speaks to us all. I don’t know about you, but the dream of all of us is to have a house on the beach. It’s my dream. I think that’s what speaks to a lot of people — these residents in their own way managed to live this dream and this is the result of it.

VW: You’ve photographed conflict and sadness throughout your career. How does this disaster compare to things you’ve witnessed elsewhere?

ER: It was different. Acceptance, first off, that this was nature — not a man-made tragedy. On the other hand, the difference is that people in other places I’ve gone to have nothing. These people [on Staten Island] had 20 to 30 years of things they’ve worked their asses off to have…the bulk of people were concerned with their photographs and irreplaceable personal things. The prom pictures, the family pictures, the few things they had left over from their heritage, their parents. That kind of thing was gone — much more devastating than anything else.

VW: One of your more powerful images is a pinboard of family photos that people had pulled out of the rubble.

ER: Curiously, I think in a way that the photographs have taken on another meaning, like proof that they exist in a certain way as people. Photographs have taken on a totem quality in our society, maybe more than they should. The photos do have a significance — that we exist and we have roots.

We were there when a man found a picture of his friend who died in 9/11 – a little snapshot. So he was very exceedingly happy.

VW: So in some ways, these photographs are proof of existence and proof of what used to be. Your photographs, then, amplify what these found objects are already saying.

ER: I think they were pleased that someone recognized they were alive.


Eugene Richards is an award-winning American photographer. LightBox previously featured his project and book, ‘War is Personal.’

Vaughn Wallace is the producer of LightBox. Follow him on Twitter @vaughnwallace.

More photos: The Toil After the Storm: Life in Sandy’s Wake



Pictures of the Week: October 26 – November 2

linkwheel . squido lense .

From the devastation brought by Hurricane Sandy and Eid al-Adha celebrations around the world to the final week of campaigning for the 2012 U.S. presidential election and a suspected smuggler’s jeep perched atop the U.S.-Mexico border fence, TIME presents the best images of the week.

Lost and Found

It will soon be the first anniversary of the huge earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan’s Tohoku region. Hundreds of thousands of images have been taken since the disaster and most of these naturally focus on documenting the scale of the devastation. In my view, little interesting work that goes beyond straightforward visual description has emerged as yet. One of the strongest projects started up immediately in the aftermath of the disaster when the photographer Aichi Hirano decided to distribute disposable cameras to the people in the shelters in the devastated region. He retrieved the cameras, developed the film and published the results at www.rolls7.com. I have written about the Rolls Tohoku project before on the blog and Hirano has continued to add new images to the Rolls website since then.

This week, I discovered another project which is a fascinating companion to Rolls Tohoku. The Memory Salvage Project was started two months after the earthquake by a team of young researchers from The Japan Society for Socio-Information Studies who felt the need to return the photographs which were swept by the tsunami to their owners. A group was set up to gather photographs that were retrieved after the tsunami, to clean them, digitize them, and to attempt to return them to their owners. This could seem like a herculean and perhaps misplaced undertaking given the scale of the problems that people face in the affected areas, but I think it is a wonderful reminder of what photographs can mean to people and how closely they are linked to our memories.

An exhibition of some of the retrieved images took place at Akaaka’s gallery in Tokyo earlier this year and, for any readers in Los Angeles, a second exhibition at Hiroshi Watanabe’s studio is taking place from 8-25 March. Details are on the Lost & Found website.

Share

No related posts.

TIME’s Best Photojournalism of 2011

Sometimes words just aren’t enough. We realize that’s a bold statement for a news magazine to make. After all, words are our currency. Yet we know that there are times when, to fully tell the stories that need to be shared, we need more than words.

This year it was as evident as ever. From the tsunami in Japan, to the war in Afghanistan, to the Arab Spring, our reporters, columnists and correspondents worked tirelessly to bring you the stories that matter. But beyond the words and interviews that filled our pages, our photojournalists sought out the pictures that told a deeper story. Whether they were behind the political scene like Diana Walker as she photographed Hillary Clinton aboard a military plane or risking life and limb like Yuri Kozyrev as he captured the conflict of Libya’s revolution, TIME’s dedicated photographers brought the stories to life.

In March, acclaimed TIME contract photographer James Nachtwey traveled to Japan to capture images in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami. A veteran photojournalist, even he found himself at a loss for words when trying to describe the country’s devastation. Yet in his hauntingly bleak images of ravaged towns and wounded families, we glimpsed what language failed to convey — and it was heart breaking.

TIME‘s words offer the important facts, clear-eyed insights and sharp analysis needed to understand the story. Our photojournalism offers the chance to not only see, but also feel the story. —Megan Gibson

30 documentary photos: Inside Fukushima "No Go" Zone

Despite Japanese government refusal of admittance to the 20 kilometer “No Go” Zone surrounding the devastation of the nuclear power plant of Fukushima Daiichi, Photojournalist Pierpaolo Mittica went inside the zone several times last July to document the situation. This seemed like a natural follow-up to his award-winning work and book covering the aftermath of the disaster at Chernobyl.

Lens Culture is honored to present 30 powerful images from this new investigation, along with text by the photographer. monster beats . Zits . See and read the whole story here in Lens Culture.

mittica-fukushima_16.jpg

Inside an abandoned house devastated by the Tsunami, from the series Fukushima “No Go” Zone. Pierpaolo Mittica

mittica-fukushima_14.jpg

Abandoned house, Namie city, from the series Fukushima “No Go” Zone. Pierpaolo Mittica

mittica-fukushima_28.jpg

TEPCO workers, from the series Fukushima “No Go” Zone. Pierpaolo Mittica

mittica-fukushima_20.jpg

Residents going back home to collect their belongings, Tomioka city. Pierpaolo Mittica

Maia Fiore

French photographer Maia Fiore doesn’t want to talk about her work, or for that matter, about herself, but at a time where sorrow and devastation fills the airwaves, it nice to spend some time with images that are quirky, happy, and full of magic.

Images from Big Head Poetry

Images from Sleep Elevations

Images from Maia och Fiore