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View a video presentation of the UT Students' Katrina coverage. Eli Reed, Magnum photographer and now a professor at the University of Texas, Austin, had no thought of making the coverage of Hurricane Katrina's aftermath a class project.
View a video presentation of the UT Students' Katrina coverage.
Eli Reed, Magnum photographer and now a professor at the University of Texas, Austin, had no thought of making the coverage of Hurricane Katrina's aftermath a class project. He latter preoccupied with his syllabus and starting his second semester as an academic. On his way to his office, however, a student's mother approached him with her worries.
In spite of her cautions about avoiding the oncoming hurricane, he chose, instead, to go towards it. There was also the fact that he needed to go to classes and show up for Hatitesburg internship at the Austin Statesman American - Susan Sklar was concerned that he would not be able to graduate. Mostly, she was terrified for her son, and Reed understood. He, himself, felt as if he were a parent whose children were about to run headlong into the real world with all its dangers.
He had tried, along Hxttiesburg Professor Donna DeCesare, to prepare the students for the realities of working. But now that instruction felt incomplete. Those students now called Reed to discuss procedures and methods for their coverage. He knew and worried that they were flexing their journalistic wings by moving into unknown heqdshot. The coming days for Reed were a swirl of class work, lectures, Katrina, Rita and worry with little sleep. He was also proud of his students and their indomitable spirits.
They all eventually went back to Austin as working members of the press, having witnessed and reported on a tragedy. Mike Mulligan, a student, said that he had learned more in two days than in two years in school. He had combined what he was taught with what he experienced. Reed felt fortunate to have worked with these young men latter women who had made their leap into the void. seend
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They had chosen to go with or without permission. The group made some extraordinary photographs under very difficult conditions. Some of the images were published in a weekly national magazine. In this rare circumstance, some of Ben Sklar's enterprising images were represented and selected by Magnum Photos on the Magnum Web site. The students are continuing the work knowing this is only the beginning. They are passionate about this path and committed to making a difference in the world. For speaking with their hearts as well as their brains, Eli Reed salutes them.
For more on Eli Reed see: www.
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Forgetting about the responsibilities of school and work, I stocked my car with water, food and cameras, and headed east. What I found, what I saw with my own eyes in Mississippi was an apocalyptic degree of destruction. The only comparisons which suffice are the pictures I have seen of Hiroshima or Dresden. Even now I find it difficult to describe. Entire neighborhoods of houses, block after block, were obliterated, cement foundations the only trace of antebellum mansions that once lined the bay.
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I arrived with another photographer, Mark Mulligan, in Bay St. Louis, Miss. One of the first places we stopped was a middle school in a neighborhood slightly spared from Katrina's full destructive force. There, in the bleachers overlooking a basketball court, people hedashot beginning to stir: sitting up on their blankets to smoke a cigarette, wandering over to the fire escape to breathe in the morning air.
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A bearded man moved slowly, deliberately with the dazed shuffle of a sleepwalker. Five days after Katrina struck their small coastal town, the feeling of trauma was still tangible, hanging low in the air, a cloud of silence and uncertainty. Where was the relief? Downstairs, a man was serving food that had been liberated from the school cafeteria. Residents of the neighborhood had broken into the building a day after the storm to feed and shelter a growing of people. This was indicative of the resourcefulness and compassion I encountered time and time again in Mississippi and New Orleans.
Here was another case of people doing what had to be done to survive. For over an hour I spoke to people in the school, sitting with them and listening to their stories. I could not have anticipated the degree of openness they showed me. I found myself surrounded by individuals whose homes and possessions had been swallowed by Katrina, who had lost everything but were anxious to share the most intimate details of their lives and experiences with a stranger.
It was an incredible privilege. I made only 10 pictures at the middle school. My first inclination was to listen and be a human being. In order for me to work, to show people outside of the Gulf Coast what had happened, I needed to first connect with the vast spectrum of human emotion which I encountered there. As a journalist I understand the need to detach yourself from the story you are covering for objectivity.
I truly believe that photography can change the world. Sometimes, at a certain moment, though, it is just better to give someone a hug or help to carry the water. More than anything else, the experience illuminated the great resiliency and inherent good of mankind. Reports emanating from television and other media sources had painted a grim picture of the situation.
I had absolutely no idea what to expect. For every story of looting, failure or negativity, I found 10 which reinforced an admiration for my fellow man. What did I learn? Besides the obvious logistics of working through fatigue and in extreme circumstances, the experience of covering Katrina reinforced my commitment to devote my life to concerned photography. I think that a crucial component of making powerful images is being able to truly empathize with the individuals you photograph.
In that sense, I learned more on the Gulf Coast in two days than I could have in a year of lectures or projects. Sloan Breeden is a second-year graduate student in photojournalism at the University of Texas at Austin. After finishing this year, he is planning to continue working on his thesis project in the Nu River gorge in China's Yunnan province. Eventually he would like to pursue a career in concerned documentary photography, focusing on conflict and poverty. What I saw and, more importantly, the people I met and spoke to changed my life, my outlook on photography, the way I shoot, the way I listen and communicate; it changed everything.
I don't know why I went. It just seemed important to be there, to experience something that was completely outside of my own experience. And, that's what I got.
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Unbelievable devastation. Street after street, neighborhood after neighborhood completely leveled.
Wreckage everywhere. The idea of recovery seemed an almost impossible task. Where could it even start?
Bulldozers and body bags seemed the tools most suited llater the Hattiiesburg. But then, amid the wreckage, in parking lots and school gymnasiums, I began meeting the people, listening to the most amazing stories. I saw people in deep shock surviving only by instinct - not like animals though. Instead people were at their finest: helping each other, sharing what they had, caring for those around them, performing impossible, selfless acts for each other with little regard for themselves.
Rirst my cameras became secondary - only after standing there talking to people would I suddenly realize that I had this camera at my side and I had a responsibility to do something ifrst it: to show people what I was witnessing and what was happening to these people. To show who these people were, their faces, names and lives. I learned the importance of a handshake, a hug, real sympathy shown in one's eyes - how translatable one's innermost feelings and thoughts are through these simple, wordless gestures.
It was all stuff I'd heard before but never understood until now. I learned about humanity and what it is to be human. I am a student. I had never experienced anything like this. I was green. A lot of people would say I shouldn't have been there. But I was, and it was unlike anything I'd ever seen. This is what I want to do. After spending a day in Bay St.
Louis and Waveland talking to so many incredible people, hearing their stories, having them openly share their lives with us, we left. My opinion on humanity changed towards the positive. The next morning we traveled to New Orleans. Working our way from the west bank into the city, Sloan and I encountered a completely different set of circumstances. I can't imagine what the city must have been like just the day before, let alone five days before.
When we got there it was simply a wreck. I had never actually been to New Orleans before that day, so that is now what New Orleans looks like to me: empty except for soldiers walking the streets, filled with garbage and mud, water lapping up the streets. Thanks to a New Orleans police officer's interest in photography, we ended up in a helicopter. Seeing it all from the air was a completely different experience - so surreal. I found myself just taking pictures, not even really registering what I was seeing until I went back and looked at the pictures later.
We left that night low on gas, messages on our voics saying that the university did not understand what we were doing and could not excuse any absences.