Recently, I have had the chance to take a closer look at Robert Polidori’s Katrina work. After the Flood, is a remarkable body of work. It’s scope and visual potency is remarkable. Not only are the images unremittingly beautiful, the devastation it document’s, paints a picture of the consequences of mother’s nature’s wrath. It is easy to see how the work has become an environmental statement. Like his Chernobyl work, After the Flood, portrays a post-apocalyptic world, devoid of humanity, where only the vestiges of human endeavor remain. Polidori is giving us a concrete and heightened view of the results of what we have sowed. I know there has been some controversy over the lack of people in his images, but I think with portraits the work would lose its strength. The lack of human presence provokes us to think that if we continue on our path, there may no longer be people to photograph. It is a cautionary tale, to borrow from the literary. Polidori brings up the issue of how we are treating our planet using a very particular visual language.
In contrast is Joel Sternfeld’s last body of work, Sweet Earth. Sternfeld is also very much concerned with the state of our planet, but his uses very different language. His work usually is realized on the most subtle and reductive level. (no small feat) The images often hang on a tiny detail, that points to the idea that we are universally human. Sweet Earth attempts to rouse us from our consumption driven lives by offering a view into the strange worlds created inside of our own of Utopian communities. There is something about their sacrifice and commitment, and the futility of their efforts, which makes us question our own mindless habits of modernity.
I do not think either approach better, or more effective, what makes art and photography a wonderful medium is each person’s ability to express their individual voice. I am sure different people respond more or less to either body of work depending on their own sensibilities. But both are very important, especially at this crucial time in the world.
After The Flood