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Faces of the Flood: Photographer's statement
By Christopher Auger-Dominguez
8/28/12 - 12:49 am
8/28/12 - 12:49 am
My experience of Irene was as a visitor. Sure, we own a home upstate, but our valley didn't get the brunt of the rain. The stream behind the house was full, but it never overflowed at the house.
So when I was approached by The Watershed Post about this project, I knew this was a great opportunity to get to know what really happened on the ground during Irene.
We discussed the approach and agreed that I'd like to try a cinematic style. I wanted to photograph the individuals reenacting, in a way, what happened to them. Visually, I wanted to say, "This is where they were when it happened, this is the place," as if they were telling the story and you could almost see it.
As much as the story was a journalistic project, these were portraits. How could we tell the story of what happened visually and emotionally within a photograph taken almost a year later?
What was your concept for the aesthetic of this project?
I’m not a journalist, but through the portraiture I wanted to re-tell their experiences in as real a way as possible. I didn’t want it to be a smiley, happy portrait or a snapshot picture.
I wanted it to be emotive. But we didn’t want this to be a depressing story. It was meant to be respectful. It might have been heroic, but I didn’t want to force the heroism. These people have been through and are still going through a lot – emotionally, economically. And I wanted to re-tell that as best I could through the portraiture.
So the answer to that was this cinematic style, to tell a story – a snapshot, a moment – as if they were telling the story to me. It's journalism and portraiture at the same time. I took what they said and said, “This is my interpretation of that moment.”
How did you set these photos up?
Part of that cinematic feel is to do mixed lighting, with natural light and artificial light in the same image. So in most of these images, I'm balancing the existing light with a strobe or flash.
What was your most elaborate setup?
Probably the Vilegi family, because it was inside and there were four of them. I had to make sure that they were all lit up, and I had to show the lighting of the background of the hardware store, so I had to use a lot of bulb flashes that I was screwing into the light fixtures. Yvonne Reuter, also, that was one of the most elaborate. We had four people we had to incorporate into the image, and I wanted to give it a little more dramatic lighting.
Why is the lighting dramatic?
You’re creating light and shadow where it may not exist in the moment that the photo was taken. Our minds and our eyes are complex organs that understand the story that a still photo often can’t do without help creating the dramatic lighting.
It's as if it's making the scene both epic and mundane at the same time.
How long did this project take you?
Five months. I think one of the challenges of the time period and trying to get this done is the travel. It’s a huge area; it wasn’t like I could just show up in one location and do all the photos at once. I had to do one day, every other weekend, over the past five to six months. It’s something that took anywhere from an hour to two hours to set up, and then to balance that with the comfort of the subject. Everybody had different comfort levels in front of the camera. Most everybody doesn’t like their picture taken. I had to, for a moment, ask them to step back into that moment. I think it was a lot to ask.
What themes tie all of the portraits together?
The element that I wanted to incorporate into the images was pointing to the rain, to the water. To make a reference somehow in every image, if I could, to water, which is the other character in the story. So the images...there’s some element of a reference to water.
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