The global award in photography and sustainability

Robert Polidori

The idea for my book After the Flood came to me a few days after I arrived in New Orleans, two weeks after the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina. I was sent there by The New Yorker magazine to cover the devastation that this storm had unleashed on the fragile city. I immediately realised that the scope of this catastrophe was much greater than that I had imagined, and so I took it upon myself to return and follow the evolution of the recovery. I envisioned making a book on the immediate aftermath of the flooding, the demolition of the houses, and what I expected to be their eventual reconstruction. After four visits to the city (September 2005; January, March and May 2006), I realised that there would not be any substantial reconstruction. The primary reason is that the city’s economy vanished with the residents’ collective evacuation. Because of this, my book covers only 180º of the recovery cycle that I initially imagined.

It has long been my conviction that rooms are both metaphors and catalysts for states of being, and are thus an insight into the soul of their occupants. We may take a portrait of an individual, and indeed feel many emotions and imagine their personalities or histories in detail, but I believe that by photographing the interior of an abode we know much more about one’s actual personality and personal values. The interior spaces that I photographed in New Orleans were still moist from the receding flood – and indeed the stench of organic rot, the sagging carpets, and waterlogged floorboards made photographing difficult – but it was nevertheless important to me to record for posterity a panorama of mementos of interrupted lives. It is also important to note that the overwhelming majority of these interiors’ occupants are still alive today, living a different life somewhere else. Together with the exteriors, in which I attempted to make visual sense of the forces of chaos that threw houses about as if they were made of cardboard, these photographic records are offered as a kind of visual last rites for life trajectories that are no more.