(Click on images to enlarge)
New Orleans has always been a target, as it were, for photographers. Post-Katrina this phenomena has intensifed and taken on some conflicting elements. The impulse and need to record the damage and/or absence of what used to be is elemental in spreading the message of the situation to the rest of the world. At the same time, photography can perpetuate a disconnect between the "artist" and "spectator" (one's camera is between one's self and the world) and issues of ownership and privacy are inherently raised.
In a city so visually fetishized, pre and post Katrina, a visitor might assume that taking photographs of something you aren't intimately familiar with is acceptable. Despite photography's power to connect people, articulating the needs of its subjects, questions regarding its parasitic component are always valid. In a landscape that now symbolizes the horrific destructivness of marginialization/"other-ing" (for the sake of time/space, this over-simplification of the how's and why's of the levee breaks will have to suffice) how does one who genuinely wishes to connect with the landscape/story via photography do so with respect and dignity?
Another angle: for months after the storm the loss (and attempts at recovery) of family photographs became a shared experience for survivors; a common refrain of survivors is how losing their family photos is what hurts them to this day. The power that a photograph has to function on an comforting medicinal level becomes clear. At the same time, strangers walking the streets could happen upon private family photos in varying stages of ruin and feel no qualms about taking them as souveniers (with no obvious "owner" in site, weren't the artifacts fair game? Finders keepers? Or: if I don't pick up and save that smeared photo of a kid in front of the Christmas tree who will?). How does this process connect people, how does it further object/abject-ify people? These questions linger.
In some respects, this tree filled with Polaroids of birds in varying stages (ceramics, needlework, live and in flight, etc) is nothing more than a gesture toward giving something back to this landscape that has been so relentlessly exploited. By leaving photographs versus "taking" them, the process is reversed and a measure of balance can be returned, even if only symbolically. The quiet simplicity of this gesture aims to function as a poetic remedy to the noise of the murderous waters rushing in, the tragedy, and grief. As the baler's twine disintigrates in the hard winds, the photographs are falling from the tree, a strange fruit reminiscent of photos found after flood waters receed. The surfaces of the Polaroids are altered by the weather and take on qualities that can not be anticipated. Someone might stand underneath this tree and think about what they are surrounded by (vast empty space/unmarked graves) and consider their role in the story. Someone else may not even look twice. Both reactions are valid. The photographs and the tree and the memories remain.
All are invited to contribute photographs to this tree. The only requirement is that they be of joyous, singing, and/or celebratory images.