Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
October 8, 2005

St. Rita Ongoing

In considering all the failures associated with the Katrina disaster, how are we to understand the abuse of the grief process?

Because we’re all pretty much friends here now, and I, along with you, have tacitly contracted to participate in the ongoing analysis of the prominent political images of our day, I wanted to involve you in a decision I was wrestling with.

As many of you are aware, I ran Alan Chin’s remarkable photos from New Orleans about a week and a half ago.  For long time readers, you also know how interested I am in Alan’s work, and his uncanny ability to position himself (and, of course, his camera) at the most fundamental political intersections.

Well, five days after Alan sent me the images I posted, he sent a second set that he shot at St. Rita’s nursing home.  That’s the establishment where thirty-four elderly residents were abandoned and left to die in the flood waters, and the owners were subsequently charged with manslaughter.

The reason I bring all this up is because I didn’t known what to do with the pictures.  On first pass, they seemed both too ghastly and, to be honest, somehow unremarkable (perhaps with the first set fresh in mind).  And, I might have just retained that opinion (as well as the images) if not for the growing prominence of another catastrophe going on in slow-motion in New Orleans right now.

The issue I’m talking about is the autopsy backlog, the hang ups involved in the processing and cataloguing of the deceased, and the running problems (mostly involving liability) between the FEMA morgue and the one operated by the city of New Orleans.  The result (according to the LA Times) is that, as of Friday, only 73 of the dead in Louisiana had been identified out of a state total of 988.

Which brings me back to Alan Chin.

What tipped the balance for me in terms of posting these photos was the problem of corpses in limbo.  In my mind, I can only imagine how families and friends are reacting as they wait — and possibly face quite a long wait — for the remains of loved ones.  It was in this context that Alan’s St. Rita photos became relevant to me.  Because, what is so disturbing about these photos is how they make an issue out of something so completely private, disturb the wish to be remembered better, and memorialize that which basic dignity expects to have rectified.

If you notice, I have broken my convention of leading off a post with an image.  That’s because I felt the need to discuss these first.  Besides your consideration of what they are, I offer you these five nine (out of nine) St. Rita photos to think about whether they should have been posted at all — and why.

1 Strita07A

2 Strita02A-2    3 Strita03A-1

4 Strita04A    5 Strita06A

6 Strita09A1-1    7 Strita05A1A

8 Strita01A1A     9 Strita08A1A

(click image for larger version)

Again, I believe Alan will be available for questions and feedback in the discussion thread.

(All images courtesy of Alan Chin/Gamma.  New Orleans. 2005.  Posted by permission)

About the Photographer

Alan Chin

Alan Chin was born and raised in New York City’s Chinatown. Alan Chin was born and raised in New York City’s Chinatown. Since 1996, he has worked in China, the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, and throughout the Middle East and Central Asia. In the US, Alan has explored the South, following the historic trail of the civil rights movement and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, covered multiple presidential campaigns, and the Occupy Wall Street movement. He is a contributing photographer to Newsweek/Daily Beast and The New York Times, a member of Facing Change: Documenting America (FCDA), and an editor at Newsmotion.org. You can see all Alan's posts for BagNews here.

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