I was really looking forward to going to the SFMOMA again. Until I got there. Wandering through the Face of Our Time photography exhibit, I came into a room of framed photos of "New Orleans" and Hurricane Katrina. I've seen these photos a million times, I've seen the real things, but something about the way they were hung and framed in the art museum really broke me down. This is not talent, this is not art. This is definitely not original, I've seen these exact photos taken by multiple others, and there was nothing high-quality or original about the way they were photographed. This is not speaking for people that have no voice, this is not showing the world injustices to incite change. This is capitalization off of personal tragedy, tragedy experienced by people with digital cameras and flickr accounts who could have shared these exact images if they wanted to. This is not even New Orleans in most of the photos, it's St. Bernard Parish, but I guess that doesn't conjure the same effect.
(Here's my dad, the actual face of that time. He is typical of the majority of homeowners in St. Bernard Parish. Not what you were expecting? Let's focus on the graffiti instead, that's more New Orleans-y.)
I remember my brother telling me a story about when he was helping my dad clean out his house after the storm. They worked on it for hours after work every day, in a mostly deserted town. He told me about how people would drive down the street and get so excited when they saw him and my dad working, wheelbarrowing piles of ruined possessions and dumping them on the front lawn. They would pull up the car and roll down the windows and take pictures and talk to each other about how great it was to find something so great to photograph - that something being my family's destroyed lives.
(Photography taken from the car on the way home. Think I should donate it to SFMOMA? Oh, wait, they already have one...)
I thought a lot about why these photographs bothered me so much. I didn't have the same reaction to Jim Goldberg's photographs of the refugees in the Democratic Repulic of Congo, considerably more tragic. Was it just personal? But I came to the conclusion that the major difference is that even if other people were covering the exact same subject at the exact same time, they could not have taken the same photograph as he did. And that is the difference.