To mark the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent floods that devastated New Orleans, The Metropolitan Museum of Art will present New Orleans after the Flood: Photographs by Robert Polidori. The quietly expressive photographs present a candid and intimate look at widespread urban ruin—an incomprehensible, topsy-turvy landscape of felled oak trees, houses washed off their foundations, and tumbled furniture that leaves the viewer with more questions than answers.
Polidori is drawn to record the disasters of our time and the failures of contemporary society. In his New Orleans photographs, as in his previous work in Havana, Versailles, and Chernobyl, he eschews nostalgia for the poignancy of absence. In a city that itself resembles a lost civilization, wrecked rooms, caved-in houses, and ravaged neighborhoods become metaphors for the fragility of human life.
Having lived in New Orleans as a teenager, I felt compelled to return to the city to bear witness to the stunning scope of the crisis and to ensure that the city and its citizens will not be forgotten. My photographs of New Orleans’s flooded homes reduced to rotting debris speak to the personal and collective loss suffered by the local population. – Robert Polidori
In these disturbing scenes, Polidori finds a formal beauty that radiates stillness and compassion and invites contemplation. Using a large-format camera, natural light, and unusually long exposures, Polidori records the domestic destruction with a mastery of color, light, shadow, and texture that makes the discarded mementos and mud-caked belongings all too palpable. In each work, the artist seems to have caught on film the very air of New Orleans, weighted heavily with mold, humidity, and history.
New Orleans after the Flood is organized by Jeff L. Rosenheim.