More of “Destory the Memory” by Richard Misrach

As a follow-up to my last post, I viewed two more versions of “Destroy the Memory” by Richard Misrach. The first one was from PBS, in which we hear Misrach’s commentary on his photo album. Some of the photos are recognizable, such as the “Broken Dreams” and the “destroy this memory” photos. Like in the Time version, the photos are set in a bleak and desolate setting, thus emphasizing the spray-painted text. However, the commentary by Misrach brought his work to life, as he explains the reasoning behind his work. Instead of taking photos of the clichéd aftermath scenes after a disaster, Misrach takes an alternative route to show the effects of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans. His showcase of the “voice of the people” presents an interesting display of emotions by the natives. I like how he uses haikus as a metaphor for the messages, since they are both short but powerful. Misrach’s order of the photos was effective, as he starts out with the typical enraged messages targeted towards possible looters and the government. However, the photos transition into unexpected reactions, where humor is involved (one included a reference to Elvis!). The last four photos possess a sense of existentialism, with words like “I miss you.” and “What now?” This was an effective ending, since the viewer is left to wonder whether New Orleans can ever make a rebound from this disaster.

Viewing the SFMOMA version after the previous two versions was a different experience. Additional layers such as music and video clips are added, which diminishes the true photo album feel.  In addition, I did not feel I understood the photos as much, since I was distracted by the moving video and music. However, by showing his face, the viewer forms a connection with him. Previously, Richard Misrach was just a name, but now we see him as a human. In all facets of life, it makes a big difference when you see and do things in person. From these three versions of Misrach’s work, I think it would be nice to include a few video clips into my Final Project. Unlike the SFMOMA version of “Destroy the Memory” I won’t use video clips throughout, since I don’t want viewers to get distracted from the photos.

“Destroy the Memory” by Richard Misrach

In his photo album “Destroy the Memory”, Richard Misrach photographs images of a ravaged New Orleans after the monster of Hurricane Katrina .  Unlike some of the other photo essays we’ve seen, Misrach does not use any specific style of photography, such as the use of line or texture. In fact, the photos are initially “normal” and not creative. By using a 4 Mp pocket camera instead of a professional one, it seems like Misrach snapped these photos for himself  rather than to showcase them in a  Time magazine. However, through this monotony, Misrach successfully makes his point. The backgrounds full of gray skies, deteriorated houses surrounded by weeds, and abandoned streets emphasizes the text that is present in each photo. Personally, I involuntarily looked at the text in spray-paint before viewing the other aspects of the photo. The text is not additive, for it is the centerpiece of Misrach’s work in this photo album. The various responses by the natives of New Orleans is narrated, from the sardonic dark humor of “I AM HERE. I HAVE A GUN” to the calming and prophetic message of “Keep The Faith. We Will Rebuild.” It is very interesting how one person attempts to make light of his miserable situation, while the other person places a crucifix with Jesus in a middle of highway. The latter is especially controversal — one might think, “if we should keep faith in our rebuilding efforts, why God even bestow Hurricane Katrina on us in the first place!” By just snapping a photo with an amateur camera, Misrach already lets the viewer into some insight with the struggles some New Orleans residents might be having with their faith.  

"I'll miss you." Image credit: Richard Misrach

This particular photo interested me when I viewing this photo album. Innocently enough, the photo features a typical post-Katrina household in New Orleans — unkempt, open windows, full of weeds. However, the spray-painted text on the brick wall, “I miss you,” is riveting. What exactly is this person missing? Does he miss a loved one who died in the hurricane? Does he miss the once-beautiful garden he owned in the backyard? Does he miss the childhood memories he used to have strolling down the streets of a happy New Orleans? We may never know exactly what he misses, but this statement encompasses the raison d’etre why Katrina was so effective. Not only it literally destroyed the city, but it destroyed dreams, desires, and the exuberance of thousands of people. Instead of progressing, there was rebuilding. Instead of jazz and culture, there was poverty crime. No one will ever know the true pain of those living in the city of New Orleans, even five years after the monster’s rampage.