"After the Storm" -- Documentary Photographer Discusses Katrina

Award-winning documentary photographer Alex Harris will discuss his exhibition, “After the Storm: Post-Katrina Photographs” on March 23 at 5:30 p.m. at the Sanford School.

During the spring following Hurricane Katrina, Harris created a series of large-format triptychs depicting the battered and abandoned Gulf Coast. The exhibition, on display of the first floor of Rubenstein Hall through August 12, includes 15 triptychs measuring 24 by 80 inches.

The artist’s talk in Rubenstein Hall 153 is free and open to the public and will be followed by a reception. It is part of the 2010-11 Provost’s Lecture Series, “Natural Disasters, Human Responses.”

In an artist’s statement about the exhibition, Harris wrote that his plan to photograph the return of spring to the devastated region— a “potentially a hopeful response to the images of destruction I'd seen in the media”—changed when he experienced firsthand a degree of devastation for which TV coverage had not prepared him.

Photographing silent and seemingly abandoned scenes was an attempt, Harris said, to “make order out of chaos.” Policymakers and photographers share the challenge of “how to engage the imaginations of our fellow citizens to focus on places and problems they might otherwise turn away from.” Harris writes, "I realize now that in taking these photographs I was using the camera to look at something almost unthinkable – our universal worst fear that in a moment everything we know or love could be snatched away."

The triptychs were first displayed last fall at thePavillon Populaire in Montpelier, France, in an exhibition curated by Gilles Mora, and published in the catalogue, Les Suds Profonds de L'Amerique (The Deep South of America).

Harris is a professor of the practice of public policy and documentary studies at Duke, and a founder of the Center for Documentary Studies and of DoubleTake Magazine which he edited for four years. He is also a faculty member in the Duke’s new MFA program in experimental and documentary arts. River of Traps, his book with writer William DeBuys, was a 1991 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction. He is currently working on a book with biologist E.O Wilson, about Mobile, Alabama and the role of place in our lives.

The exhibition and talk are supported by the Sanford School of Public Policy and the Office of the Provost. The exhibition is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Parking is available at the Science Driver Visitors Lot.