I hadn’t been to New Orleans in more than five years when I landed at Louis Armstrong on Tuesday, so I was anxious to get back out in the city. I squeezed in a few hours of exploration in between two-and-a-half days of conference activities, including following up on my long-running project with Michael Carriere and revisiting neighborhoods. The following photographs are a few of my favorites.
The distinctive rebuilding of the Sendai coast
When Yohei Morita and I visited Tōhoku, Japan in 2014, I was most affected by the areas decimated by the tsunami — but it wasn’t for the reasons one might imagine. With the exception of the cities still in the radiation exclusion zone, most of the quarters destroyed by the tsunami had already been cleared by the Japanese government. In these places, there were few overturned cars, thrashed buildings, derelict streets, or even memorials. With few exceptions, they were remarkably sterile places, with scant clues that the areas had ever been inhabited, not to mention inhabited and then obliterated.
The occasional signs of mayhem, like the gleaming new headstones that filled nearby cemeteries, were amplified by this context, but my main reaction was still to what wasn’t there. I was affected because I couldn’t comprehend what we were witnessing. I wasn’t prepared for this kind of devastation and response.
So when Tanto Tempo Gallery invited me to return to Japan this summer, I set aside half of the trip to revisit Tōhoku to see what had changed and to experience how my understanding of it might change too. My approach would be twofold: to match photographs I made in 2014 and to seek out new areas, particularly revitalization projects.
I will keep the text relatively short, but I should make a few notes before I get into the first set of images. An enormous amount of effort put into the region: nearly all of the towns are cleared, harbors have been reconstructed, flood walls are everywhere, new housing has been built, and people have initiated creative community building up and down the coast. Even so, my main reaction to the place remains: I can’t help but be awed by the openness of coves, the emptiness of places I know were once inhabited, and those shining cemeteries.
In 2014, Yohei and I spent time with the community activists behind Space for Community, a local advocacy organization and meeting place in Ishinomaki city. After that experience, I knew I’d want to make Ishinomaki a focal point of this trip. I wasn’t able to meet with Space for Community this time around, but I visited with a number of Ishinomaki groups, including Ishinomaki Laboratory, a community-based woodworking shop. There I met with Warafuji, Takahiro Chiba, and David Wang, with whom I discussed the group’s founding, products, and future.
The organization is an hybrid community organization, essentially local but with inspiration and assistance from Tokyo-based designers. Founded in response to the disaster, the group creates and builds furniture with a straightforward, DIY design language. It is also currently strengthening a partnership with a local women’s weaving group to expand their small line of textiles. Their products are not yet available in North America but are available in Asia and Europe.
Warafuji and Takahiro Chiba in the Ishinomaki Lab workshop, some of their small wooden and textile products
After leaving Ishinomaki Lab, I took David Wang’s recommendation and headed to Hashidori Common for a meal. The food truck-like establishment was launched to provide opportunities for small restauranteurs to build their businesses while simultaneously creating an informal town square. Even on a rainy night, a dozen people were eating in the semi-covered dining areas.
A customer places her order in Hashidori Common
Other than this time in Ishinomaki, most of my visit wasn’t in the town centers but retracing Yohei’s and my previous route through the costal towns and coves. I did make some new compositions during this part of the trip, but I focused on rephotographing the scenes, matching images from 2014. In these areas progress is both monumental and surprisingly slow.
Minor construction work continues along the Ogatsucho Mizuhama port
While the emergent theme of the first half of the Tōhoku trip was rebuilding, driving south to the radiation affected area changed the tone. With each mile, the landscape appeared increasingly like my 2014 visit, although with warnings about radiation (and that nagging feeling about whether or not I should really travel into the former exclusion zone).
I was driving to Tomioka, a radiation-blanketed town Yohei and I visited with Deputy Mayor Hirofumi Sanpei. This time I would do the visit alone. While Yohei and I needed to be officially cleared and accompanied to visit in 2014, much had changed in the two and a half years, including that the town’s radiation levels have been partially remediated. As a result, the town is open for some redevelopment. Construction workers move relatively easily, and residents may return to some areas on a limited basis. I wouldn’t need to pass through security checkpoints before entering an exclusion zone, although I was stopped and questioned by the police during the visit.
The newfound opening of the city did not affect much of National Route 6, which — while open — was flanked by temporary gates preventing access to houses and businesses along the road and radiation monitors. Each provided tangible reminders of the area’s invisible contamination.
Temporary gates and a radiation monitor along National Route 6, the Rikuzenhama Highway
Because I wasn’t with Deputy Mayor Sanpei, I was unable to revisit a portion of the town we visited in 2014, but I was able to see the majority of the town center. Arriving near the old train station, I freely moved among cleanup crews along streets once surrounded by buildings. The area had been cleared of structures, leaving only the streets, a few utility poles, and the hills to remind visitors of what was once there. An occasional dignitary would arrive accompanied by staffers only to take a few photographs with a cellphone and then duck into a waiting car. I was surprised by how the area was both empty and busy.
The most visible signs of tsunami damage have been removed from downtown Tomioka
The concentrated nature of the cleanup effort was clear in the city’s residential neighborhoods, where the streets were near motionless. Along these streets, dereliction is rampant and there are few visible workers. The occasional building has even collapsed in on itself. Here, I regularly stopped my car in the middle of the street to stand on the sills and get a slightly elevated view of the blocks.
After 30 minutes of driving through these neighborhoods I hit the edge of the former exclusion zone and began my long return trip to Tokyo.
Four quiet Tomioka streets
I expected that this visit would be just the second of many trips to Tōhoku, but I was surprised by how much had — and hadn’t — changed in two and a half years. Some of the modifications are masked by the tension between tangible and intangible changes, but the continued need for infrastructure development and residential cleanup makes me especially curious about the region’s future. I left Tōhoku more energized than haunted, and I can’t wait to return.
The cliffs and plateaus of the Agame massif.
One of the unexpected experiences of my trip to Ethiopia’s Tigray region was witnessing the daily conflict between local boys and gelada monkeys.
Endemic to Ethiopia, gelada monkeys are especially plentiful in the country’s central northern mountains. While some of these areas are protected “natural” lands, a significant portion of the habitat is primarily agricultural. I visited one such area with Brian Ashby and Susannah Ribstein: the Erar community of Tigray’s Agame mountains. In the massif, plateaus are cultivated for barley, chickpeas, lentils, linseed, wheat, and other crops. Because geladas are scavengers, the monkeys often take advantage of these fields and their easy nutrition.
As one might expect, the farmers aren’t thrilled by the monkeys eating their crops. The solution is hiring local boys to protect the fields. From dawn to dusk, the boys scan the plateau for gelada harems who might raid the crops and then scare the monkeys away. In exchange, the boys will be paid 5kg of the crops raised by each farmer in their territory. For example, one of the three boys with a domain on the small plateau we visited took home 5kgs of linseed, lentils, barley, and wheat last year.
The following photographs are a glimpse of the back and forth between the monkeys and boys.
Special thanks to Kiros Zeray for the background and translation.
Geladas climb the cliff to access one of the fields on the plateau.
The main Shankill bonfire a few minutes after lighting.
Six years ago, I started a project about two annual events in Belfast, Northern Ireland: the Loyalist bonfires of Eleventh Night and the Orange Order parades of The Twelfth. As I’ve described elsewhere, the related bonfires and parades are often discussed as cultural phenomena, but they are also political affairs intended to reinforce the United Kingdom’s claim over Northern Ireland.
This political character is obvious in the Loyalists’ burning of the Irish tricolor, Sinn Féin election posters, and even Irish soccer team jerseys, but the partisan nature of the bonfires was even clearer this year. Support for the Brexit and disparagement of the European Union abounded, and local political developments related to the bonfires were also referenced. The most direct local example was the burning of election posters for SDLP Councillor Claire Hanna, who champions reigning in the bonfires.
But counterbalancing also occurred: the “beacon” program I referenced in 2012 continued to operate as an environmentally friendly alternative to bonfire construction, and the bonfire and parade events appeared to be changing. Many bonfires were more subdued than before, numerous participants seemed more interested in spectacle than politics, and the city felt less tense than in recent years. The Police Service Northern Ireland was certainly out in full force, but they weren’t needed in the typical way. This was even true for the Twelfth parade routes where riots have occurred during my previous visits.
More detailed background about the situation and selected photographs from my Belfast series are available in main website gallery, which I’ll be updating soon. In the meantime, favorite photographs from this year’s trip are below.
Britain’s recent vote to leave the European Union was celebrated on the Tigers Bay bonfire. The Ulster Defense Association‘s shield is displayed above the “Brexit” sign.
Belfast’s extended twilight makes for some spectacular scenes. This children’s bonfire is dressed with two Irish tricolors, the European Union flag, the Isis flag, and a jersey from the Celtic Football Club.
Despite boarding up windows and doors to protect houses from the Shankill bonfire’s spectacular embers, the roof of a nearby row house ignited, destroying multiple units. This is the moment the first roof collapsed.
While the British were voting to leave the European Union I was across the Channel in the refugee camp known as the “Jungle.” Located in Calais, France, the informal camp is the last stop for immigrants hoping to enter England undetected via the Channel Tunnel.
The camp and its 6,000+ residents have become a symbol of for Britain’s changing relationship with Europe and its former colonies, not to mention the demographic changes and refugee crises that seem to be so important for those who support Britain leaving the E.U.
During the time the “Jungle’s” representation has been central to such political conflicts, the camp itself has taken a number of forms. It continues to increase in size, but its most dramatic changes have been relatively recent, particularly the demolition of a 100-meter wide section of the camp that abutted an elevated highway and the construction of a new formal aid center inside the informal camp. Other changes include the establishment of a nearby site that offers additional security for women and children apart from the male dominated main camp.
One short note before I continue to the main text: I include photographs in the post, but I only photographed for a small portion of the time I was at the camp. When I did photograph, I always asked for permission first and intentionally avoided close-up photographs in most cases. Additionally, I’ve only included the names of a couple of residents and volunteers who are publicly known. This is to protect the privacy of the refugees, many of whom are understandably concerned about broadcasting their temporary association with the camp, particularly given their desire to enter England as undocumented immigrants. This also goes for volunteers, who have their own concerns about attacks from nationalist groups and persecution (and prosecution) by the police for their activities, which are not always appreciated by authorities.
I was able to visit the camp with the refugee relief organization L’Auberge des Migrants, which distributes clothing and other essentials to residents. The organization coordinates its activities in a warehouse that is a short drive from the camp. Their grounds house a donation sorting center, the food relief organization Refugee Community Kitchen, and “Caravanarnia,” a camp for volunteers who wish to stay at the warehouse.
L’Auberge des Migrants volunteers sorting clothing.
My visit to the “Jungle” started with an introduction from Maya Konforti, one of the leaders of the organization. Konforti has been working in the camp since its infancy, and walking through its streets yields a near constant stream of greetings, hugs, and calls of “Mama!” as she passes.
Among those Konforti and I visited was an Afghan immigrant named Sikander, who founded Jungle Books Kids’ Restaurant with his English partner Mary Jones. Sikander gradually created the first restaurant in the camp while selling food to people who stayed with him. After running a couple of small restaurants in the first portion of the Jungle that was demolished by authorities, the pair was distressed by the conditions endured by the camp’s 700 minors, of which nearly 80% are unaccompanied in Calais. In response, they created a place where the camp’s young residents can hang out, eat, learn, and keep out of trouble in a camp teeming with drugs and other threats.
Teenagers playing billiards at Jungle Books.
Sikander and Maya Konforti talking in the center.
After Konforti and I parted for the afternoon, I wandered the camp, meeting refugees from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Somalia, and Sudan, and spending time in restaurants, shops, and the occasional home. When people learned I was American, they always asked about American politics, particularly about Donald Trump’s candidacy and his public support. Invariably, conversation drifted to immigration policy in the U.S. and then to the Brexit. What would it all mean for the refugees?
The friend of a shop owner watches his store, and a baker prepares naan.
On a few occasions, a passing resident would see my camera and say some variant of “We need a solution,” which meant that they were tired of the media attention with no change to immigration policy or conditions in the camp. I agreed with them, and we’d have a discussion about the entire situation, but it was just another conversation…
A few of the restaurants and shops on the main street.
It stormed the night before, so there was standing water everywhere, and people were drying out the belongings of their tents. Many streets and paths were flooded; some were being cleared.
Since I’d read about the large Ethiopian church spared from demolition a few months earlier, I decided to leave the main camp area and walk down the pathway to the church. I waited until the residents in the church were done praying, then took off my shoes and entered the church.
Within a few minutes of being inside, I heard the dull sound of projectiles firing in the distance and then bustling around the church. I put on my shoes and walked out of the church courtyard to see tear gas lingering by the entrance to the camp and residents fleeing the area. One of the Pakistani residents with whom I’d recently spoken pointed out the problem areas.
Minutes before, a number of refugees tried to climb on top of stopped semi-trailer trucks on the highway in hopes of riding them into the trains that traverse the tunnel. The police fired tear gas in an attempt to get the refugees off the highway and then keep them out of the 100 meter zone. While some residents retreated, the commotion enlarged the crowd, which was in the hundreds by the time I made it down to the area.
Residents on top of a semi-trailer truck and fleeing the tear gas on the highway.
After standing on the embankment for a few minutes watching the tear gas get launched elsewhere and the police corralling some demonstrators, one young resident in his late teens picked up a rock from the area behind the ridge on which most residents were standing. A few people looked back at him and urged him “No, no, no!” After pausing for a few moments, he hurled the rock over the crowd. The rock didn’t land near the police but they quickly turned, directed their tear gas at the ridge and fired their canisters.
Police guarding the highway and threatening refugees getting too close to the tear gas canisters.
Everyone on the mound scrambled down to the walls of the small buildings that define the edge of the camp, seeking a way to squeeze between structures and make their way deeper into the camp.
I found a way through a couple of makeshift buildings and ended up on the main street. The gas tumbled through the main entrance and down the thoroughfare. Two young men and I rushed back into their rooms adjacent to an Eritrean restaurant and paused. The room had a dirt floor, rolled up blankets for sleeping, and some personal effects. We caught our breath. But the gas seeped in through the semi-open walls and then hung in the room. We headed out between the rear of the building and the scrub, where the wind would at least eventually clear out the air. We waited it out.
Once the tear gas thinned, I left the area behind the houses and walked across the street to Jungle Books Kids’ Restaurant. The blinds had been drawn, and the young residents were sitting around and talking. Some were eating, others washing out their eyes. A volunteer was waiting to start an English lesson at 4pm.
After another 20 minutes, the wind had blown the tear gas to the south. Residents had already begun to return to daily life in the camp, re-opening blinds, then stores, then returning to the streets. Even as the situation calmed, the police presence maintained a tense posture along the border of the camp, standing with their weapons drawn and scanning the “Jungle.” The last major tear gassing had been three days before. Residents were already thinking about another attempt to get to Britain.
In a way, it was a normal day in the camp, but the Brexit vote has created a new layer of complications. The treaty and practices that facilitated the creation of the camp are relatively unpopular in France, and politicians, including the mayor of Calais, are already intensifying calls for changing how France and the U.K. police the Channel and its transportation links. Any alterations will surely affect the refugees and their likelihood of reaching a new home in Britain — or anywhere else.
This piece is an extension of a residency organized by the Centre Régional de la Photographie Nord — Pas-de-Calais and the Hyde Park Art Center and funded by the MacArthur Foundation.
From 2013 to 2015 I split my time between Cambridge, Massachusetts and Chicago. Rather than work on a major project in the Boston area, I mainly used my time there to write my dissertation and focus other projects, including organizing and editing my work for Affordable Housing in New York and the Telescope Houses of Buffalo, New York. Even so, I did produce a small photographic series about modernist buildings, wandered around in the greatest snowfall in the city’s history, and made a little work that helped me enjoy some of the differences between New England and Midwestern cities.
The following photographs are a loose assortment from those mini-projects. The above image pulls from the dozens of photographs I made from the apartment window. MIT’s Briggs Field commands the foreground, with the rest of the campus, the Charles River, and Boston beyond.
The landmarked [pdf] Shell Oil Company “Spectacular” sign in Cambridge
St Augustine’s African Orthodox Pro-Cathedral in Cambridge. The denomination was founded in Chicago in 1921 and has an intriguing history, including links to Marcus Garvey.
After working on the Telescope Houses of Buffalo, New York for the last three years, I happily showed the series in Buffalo for the first time last weekend at Dennis Maher’s The Fargo House gallery. When I wasn’t at the gallery, I continued shooting the project and supplemented earlier photographs of the city with new images of neighborhood stores and Silo City. Photographs of the installation and several new images are below.
For more information about the Telescope Houses of Buffalo, New York, check out my recent interview in The Public conducted by University at Buffalo architecture professor Gregory Delaney and a ArchDaily/Satellite magazine feature on the series.
New photographs of Buffalo telescope houses.
The Fargo House on opening night.
An installation view.
Neighborhood buildings featuring convenience stores.
The major disappointment of the trip was the demolition of a former synagogue that had been converted into a church. The above sequence is from 2012, 2014 and my recent visit.
Silo City was compelling as ever — this time with original plans, thanks to Isabella Crowley.
I spent last weekend in the small Indiana cities that share the banks of the Ohio River with Louisville. Like many small towns along the river, the settlements have surprisingly long histories, with founding dates reaching back into the late 1700s. Over these some 200 years, the Ohio repeatedly left its imprint on the cities. To contemporary eyes the clearest marks are ripples from the Ohio River flood of 1937. The flood affected nearly every settlement along its banks, from its origin at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers in Pittsburgh to where it meets the Mississippi at Cairo, Illinois. In the Kentuckiana region, the Louisville Ohio River gauge reached a record height of 52.15 feet, nearly 30 feet higher than flood stage. For context, the highest the river has reached in recent years was just over 31 feet in 2011, and at time of writing, it is currently at 12.74 feet.
Since the record flood, the cities along the river constructed a mix of earthen and concrete flood walls above the 1937 high water line. Given how prominent these features are in the cities’ histories and built environment, I wanted to spend the few free hours I had to glimpse the cities’ connection with the Ohio. Perhaps some day I will return and start to develop a project that connects to my work upriver in the Pittsburgh area. But for now, that meant I often photographed near the flood walls, but also through sites with connections to the river, like the EZ Food Mart, which is open late to serve the Jeffboat shipyards or Clarksville’s Falls of the Ohio Liquor Store, that takes its name from the nearby waterfalls along the Ohio River.
There must be more maps of Illinois displayed on Chicago’s South and West Sides than anywhere else in the state.
The hand-painted illustrations are rendered on store walls and windows with thick house paint, spray paint, and even airbrushing. Some maps are remarkably accurate, while others more closely resemble teeth, Africa, or even Castellane pasta.
So why are there so many such maps? Illinois Link.
Illinois residents who receive federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits or income assistance receive a “Link” card. This credit card-like “Illinois Electronic Benefit Transfer” card may be used to purchase food (or seeds/plants to produce food) at approved stores or, in the case of cash benefits, withdraw money at ATMs and debit card machines.
What’s crucial to the map propagation is that for years, the design of the physical card included a map of Illinois. One of the consequence of that design choice was that stores who wanted to advertise that they accepted the Link program would include the outline of the state on their store wall or window.
In most cases, the “We Accept Link” signs were professionally prefabricated signs, some that even contained actual photographs of a Link card. But throughout Chicago’s South and West Sides, small corner stores forwent vinyl or silkscreen signs for hand-painted logos. Today, artists’ representations of the card float alongside hand-painted advertisements for “fresh food,” detergent, juice, and other staples.
However, a new Link card design was issued in 2013 with “a simpler design … chosen to look like other credit/debit cards, a smaller logo placed on the back of the card, and a 16 digit Personal Account Number (PAN).” With this major design change, the map of the state of Illinois is less prominently featured, and paintings featuring the new design are already popping up on stores, like the sign on the right from a South Side convenience store.
As a lover of maps (and the state of Illinois!), I hope the hand-painted renderings will continue to decorate walls, but I expect they will gradually be replaced by more generic Link advertisements. In case that happens, I’ve assembled a sample of my collection of my photographs of the logos here at the encouragement of my friend and collaborator Brian Ashby.
I sporadically photographed these signs during the last several years, but I’ve stepped up my documentation in recent months because I’ve noticed an increasing number of derelict renderings of the state, perhaps in response to the card redesign.
I may post more examples in the future, but this group demonstrates the range of the signs for now.
2015 was another year of change. After splitting my time in Chicago and Cambridge over the last couple of years, it’s time to add another city into the mix. Since August, I have been hopping between Chicago and Minneapolis, where I am now an assistant professor of sociology at St. Olaf College. Even with the change in location, I’ve actively worked on several projects, including two which have come to a close. The following includes highlights from that work and a few notes about what I’ll be up to in 2016.
The Affordable Housing of New York City, New York
Among the most exciting developments of 2015 was the publication of Affordable Housing in New York, edited by Matthew Lasner and Nicholas Bloom. I contributed a photography essay and dozens of additional images to the book. The project extends my work on public housing in Chicago and can be read as a companion to my efforts with Devereux Bowly on the revised and expanded edition of The Poorhouse. Samples from the project can be seen in a New York Times feature and an upcoming exhibition at Hunter East Harlem, details forthcoming.
Four years into the displacement of more than 400 families by an intermodal freight yard project, few residents remain in “The Area.” Instead, the community better resembles a worksite than a neighborhood. After a productive editing period in 2014, we put editing on hold for the year while I continued to work with residents who have both stayed and settled elsewhere. Even so, the rough-cut material was shown at a couple of events, with more scheduled for 2016. In the spring, I presented a small sample of the material at the Place Hacking Sociology conference at the University of Liverpool, and David Weinberg Photography hosted the first public screening of material from the film as part of its An Invisible Hand exhibition. The Weinberg screening was particularly special, as community activist Deborah Payne was present for the Q&A. I expect we will return to post-production work later in 2016.
The Bloomingdale Trail
In 2009, Paul Smith, Ben Helphand, and I held several conversations that would ultimately result in developing the few images I’d made on the nascent Bloomingdale Trail into a project that I would pursue for the next six years. Now that the underused rail spur has been transformed by its own multi-year construction project, I am concluding the series. I’m sure I will continue to spend time on the Trail, but any future work will be a coda to a project about a semi-wild, semi-public place above Chicago’s near northwest side.
Buffalo, New York Telescope Houses
I am nearly three years into working on this small typological project about one of Buffalo’s vernacular architectural modes, the telescope house. Now that I have photographed nearly five dozen of the buildings, I have begun to exhibit the work. This year, I exhibited selections from the project at pinkcomma gallery in Boston, as well as published in Satellite magazine and ArchDaily. An exhibition dedicated to the series will be shown this spring in Dennis Maher’s Fargo House gallery in Buffalo.
As in previous years, I visited a couple of dozen cities in the United States, much of it in support of my now six-year book project with Michael Carriere about creative solutions to local social problems. Below are photographs from some of those visits, as well as a few from a short trip to Norway and Sweden.
Amsterdam, New York
Buffalo, New York
In Cambridge, I spent a lot of time treading around during the area’s greatest recorded snowfall.
In 2014, I posted a photograph of Tyree Guyton’s House of Soul, which had been burned by an arsonist that year. The image on the left is the replacement, as of winter 2015.
In Houston, I worked on a small project about development in the city’s Third Ward.
I haven’t yet started a formal project in Minneapolis, but I am exploring the city. Now that the weather has turned, I’m especially looking forward to photographing in the snow and cold.
St. Paul, Minnesota