(Update: 7.28.05 12:31 a.m. PST: Due to the keen interest in this series, all the photos have been reposted at a larger size, and numbered for easier reference. Also, Alan Chin welcomes all questions via the comment thread — critical or otherwise.)
Until last night, I thought the news images we had seen from New Orleans during the worst days of Katrina were fundamentally unvarnished. And then I saw these.
Among his peers, Alan Chin is regarded as one of the finest photojournalists in the field — and I say that not just because he is a friend of this site. What these photos do is bear witness to much of the information that was reinforced through the written word. At the height of the disaster, we saw scenes of suffering, but were primarily told how bitter, annihilating and incomprehensible it was. We saw death, but were told it was everywhere. Also, we saw scenes of dignity and of contempt — but not quite as boldly as this.
Two of these images ran in the September 19th issue of Newsweek, and Alan has graciously made the series available to the BAG. Speaking to him last night, he felt it was vitally important that people understand how serious a failure of government had occurred in New Orleans. "I mean," he said, "the Indonesians had a tsunami, and they still handled it a hundred times better."
From the standpoint of this site, and my focus on visual politics and media, I asked Alan if he thought there had still been a "filter" on Katrina. I asked because these pictures seem that much more raw. Not surprisingly, his answer illuminated the difference it made that most of the news photos were in color. Chin explained:
"I shot it in black-and-white because we live in America, so no matter what happens, we always have visual elements that are very distracting. I was one of the only people who did this in black and white. I felt it should not be distracted by color, by the fact someone might have been wearing a hot pink t-shirt. I didn’t want that irony in it. I wanted to get to the heart of the matter — to the crucial thing."
If you were following the BAG last June, you might recall the intellectual equivalent of a brush fire that broke out here over a photo Alan took for the NYT (Punching Up The Orange – link). Chin had been included in a joint American – Iraqi raid in the town of Mahmudiya, and BnN readers had a lot of questions about the success of the operation, the coherence of the military strategy, the procedures and ethics of embedding journalists, and even the production value of the photo itself. But what made the discussion so worthwhile was that Alan suddenly popped up in it, burning up the keyboard from various Baghdad safe houses over several days, taking on all matter of civil (and even some less-than-civil) questions and comments.
Once again, Alan has kindly offered to make himself available to discuss his work. Therefore, as you comment, feel free to offer him any question you like regarding any and all the photos, what he saw, or how they were obtained. Alan emphasizes that he is not shy about criticism, so say what you will. Of course, I thank Alan for trusting his images to the BAG.
(Gallery: Click for larger version)
To inquire about purchasing one of these images, or any of Alan Chin’s work, please contact: Sasha Wolf Photographs.)