16 July 2008

The Aesthetics of Catastrophe

Seafood truck near Buras,LA ~ Copyright © 2006 Aric Mayer

Aric Mayer kindly dropped an email to bring my attention to his terrific essay/photo-essay in the latest issue of Public Culture (Spring 2008) in which he offers reflections on his experience photographing post-Katrina Louisiana. Unfortunately, you can only get access to PC via a subscription; and since it is an academic journal, you'd likely need to have access to a College/University library. But you can find many of the photos in the essay at Aric's web site.

The thing I really like about this essay (obviously the photographs are impressive - and I'd like to see them in the original large print versions) is that Aric is willing to stretch out considerably in the text. Many photographers seem phobic when it comes to discussing their work in particular or the uses of photography more generally. So it is refreshing to me to read Aric's thoughtful essay. Here is the bit where, on my reading, he sets the theme:
“A key issue in the interaction between visual culture and the practice of democracy is the ways and the means by which our popular aesthetic forms frame, address, and resolve the expectations of the audience. The dynamics of this interaction, both its promise and its problems, is made vividly explicit in the large-scale events that move the entire country into action of opinion. Hurricane Katrina is one of the most significant events of this kind in recent memory. By examining aesthetic positions available and deployed in depicting that catastrophe, we can see how the aesthetic positions themselves can at times work in opposition to the content of the work.”
Aric then goes on to discuss the uses of photography in circumstances of catastrophe and the their consequences. His remarks on the sublime and its uses [1] [2] are especially provocative. I recommend the entire essay.
PS: It turns out that Aric is impressively multi-talented.

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