Hurricane Sandy and Mobile Photography

Hurricane Sandy quickly became the only topic on the news starting Saturday, October 27th, with Facebook and Twitter following suit. Throughout the weekend and the beginning of the week, hundreds of images were being posted all over Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, blogs and news websites. Even after millions of people lost power, these social media networks were thriving.

Snapshot of Instagram images tagged #hurricanesandy

The question becomes: How much of this is truth?  At what point are these images a manipulation of the truth, a misplaced or partial representation of the aftermath of Sandy?

The effect of mobile photography on the news is an interesting one. Everything seems to be recorded, posted and commented on – changing the very nature of news from consumption, to a conversation. But at what point do we understand the effects of these natural disasters and start doing something about them instead of capturing every moment on our phones? The human feeling, the pain, the sense of loss can never be fully depicted in the images that are supposed to represent this destruction.

The effects of Sandy were incredibly destructive. People lost homes, lives, and power (as I sit here, I wonder how I will post this if we’re not supposed to get power back for the next 7-10 days). So how does photography come into play here?

And, might I add, how many images have we seen of the damage of Hurricane Sandy on the Caribbean in the news? I can tell you from the limited access of Internet I currently have, barely any. But lives have been lost and homes destroyed in Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico too. We don’t experience any of that destruction because we are engulfed in the immediacy of our own neighborhoods’ trauma.  To learn more about the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy on the Caribbean please read Yoani Sanchez’s article, “Cubans Also Need Help to Recover From Hurricane Sandy“, in the Huffington Post and  and Gary Pierre-Pierre’s article, “Hurricane Sandy: it hit the Caribbean too, you know” in the Guardian. 

Associated Press/Collin Reid – A woman wades through flood water brought by Hurricane Sandy as she evacuates her home in the Caribbean Terrace neighborhood of eastern Kingston, Jamaica, Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012. For David McFadden’s entire article, ” Hurricane Sandy pounds Jamaica, then aims at Cuba” on Yahoo news, please Click here.

At what point do these images and videos portray something more surreal? We see these images, we see our homes or where they stood, but when do we break away from watching the news, sit down and really feel what’s going on.

People get easily caught up in the sensationalism of destruction, the creation and consumption of that type of imagery. I’ve watched numerous videos on my phone of trees falling, and seen countless images of the aftermath of Sandy. And I still wonder, at what point are these accurate depictions of this horrific damage?

Thankfully there have been so many generous and amazing people out there helping others find warm places to stay, hot showers and shelter. Stores and gyms have opened up to the public, offering what they can for those in need. To learn more about how you can help those in need of food, shelter, and donations, please read “Ways to Help Sandy Relief Effort in NYC” from ny1.com.

The point is, imagery we see cannot possibly convey the extent of the damage, but photography has never been a full representation of reality. When Tuesday (October 30th) morning came, my family and I got up and walked around the neighborhood, phones in hand, documenting the destruction.

When something as destructive as Sandy happens, we want to document it. We want to capture those horrific moments so we have personal evidence of the destruction for ourselves, but also to share with the rest of the world.  It becomes a visual representation of what we’ve experienced in our lives, and for many of us, a way to maintain our sanity, a way to distract ourselves from feeling trapped (below are images I took during our assessment of the neighborhood).

Bryant Avenue, White Plains, NY. Tuesday, October 30th.
Mamaroneck Avenue, White Plains, NY, Tuesday, October 30th.
The corner of Smith Avenue and Bryant Avenue, White Plains, NY. Tuesday, October, 30th.

But when is that line crossed and we begin to glamourize destruction? So many images have circulated the Internet that I actually stumbled upon an article from the Atlantic, ” Sorting the Real Sandy Photos from the Fakes” that verified truthful depictions of Sandy versus fake ones. The images that are being captured are mainly the man-made structures being destroyed (ie: cranes, homes, boardwalks). I think a part of us has become desensitized to the trauma, because this imagery is seen too often in Hollywood and in the media. With that said, I’ve also come across images and articles that depict the destruction and raw human feeling in all of us. “The Spirit of Staten Island in 27 pictures” on Buzzfeed.com is a wonderful example of these images.

I do not have answers for any of these questions and my hope is not to in any way diminish the effects of Sandy. The destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy is real and scary. Homes and lives were taken and people were left with nothing. My only hope is to provide some “food for thought” on the emotional process and implications of documentating destruction.

Want to offer or are in need of help?
Please visit this extensive list of Emergency resources from the New York Foundation of Arts.

Are you able to donate blood? New Jersey Blood Servicces (NJBS), a division of New York Blood Center (NYBC) is in need of blood as much of the blood supply has been depleted due to Hurricane Sandy.  To donate blood or for information on how to organize a blood drive, call toll free: 1-800-933-2566 or visit: nybloodcenter.org.

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