About : What The Water Gave Me

The world is fragile in terms of relative stability. The borderline between normal and abnormal, between the real and the surreal is thin. What stories simmer just beneath the surface of our public facades?How is it it is possible to exist in the distant world of memory and the present world at the same time?    


Through impossible, created  landscapes, I wanted to investigate the intersection between my public and private lives. What would my subconscious thoughts and memories look like if they were visualized?  This work is an examination of the  juxtapositions and internal struggles between foreign soil and home turf, between past and present, between ownership and loss, between grief and resilience. Above all, however, this work is about rebirth. It's about the transmutation of pain, loss and grief into growth, tenacity and strength. 
       I know for most Canadians, other people worldwide and indeed even people from other parts of The United States, hurricane Katrina is merely a big news event from the past, but for me it was a life changing event, memories of which will forever stay with me.

           I hope this work will provide a glimpse into unfamiliar territory for those not directly connected to this event, and foster a deeper sense of empathy and understanding into the lives of those seen in the news events of the past and present. I like to think that as human beings, we are all connected to the tragedy that befalls our neighbours. I hope the victims of Katrina will never be forgotten, and that much has been learned about natural disasters and how best to respond to them from the awful damage inflicted by Katrina.

          I took so many hundreds of photographs in the aftermath of the storm that I feel  this project as it stands cannot possibly convey all that I wish to say and remember about living through Hurricane Katrina. More of those images need and demand to be displayed.  As the images stand at present, they represent more of an investigation into individual consciousness and my own inner landscape. 

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Remembering Hurricane Katrina: The Storm Of A Century

New Orleans demands that one fall in love with her, mind, body and soul. People become addicted to living there. Like all great loves, she leaves an indelible print on one's soul.While I now live in lovely Vancouver, I languish longingly and often in my good memories of the ten years I spent living in this beautiful crescent shaped city. I am not a New Orleans native by birth, (I am South African), but I fell hard when I fell for New Orleans. This is the birthplace of Jazz, the headquarters of Mardi Gras, a gumbo pot of culture and superb French Creole cuisine...It is a place filled with big, warm colourful personalities and many amazing musicians and artists....                                              

How horrifying then,the catastrophic, almost biblical proportions of Katrina's wrath on New Orleans. Houses were splintered and collapsed, moved off of their foundations, thrown on top of vehicles and in some cases swept into the middle of the streets. Cars were tossed around like child's toys and street signs totally flattened. 

When I was able to return to the city after a lengthy evacuation, the first thing that struck me was the lack of green anywhere and the absence of the sound of any life. One did not hear a single insect or bird, just deathly silence, punctuated with the occasional sound of an army vehicle droning past, filled with National Guard on patrol. Because of the sheer amount of water that simply sat everywhere in the city for so long, what remained was a coating of toxic grey sludge. Cracked , dried mud formed a jigsaw puzzle of shapes in deserted front yards.

 The suburban streets were littered with boats which was a strange sight to see indeed. There were thousands of flooded and abandoned cars all over the city. Buildings were stained with watermarks denoting the varying levels of the floodwaters as they retreated. Spray paint markings could be seen on almost every house and building denoting which premises had been searched by rescue crews searching for animal and human survivors. The entire city smelled wretched, thanks to the fact that everyone had piles of water logged furniture and refrigerators with rotting food waiting to be picked up in front of their homes.

Pieces of buildings dangled dangerously, creaking and groaning in the breeze. Mold rapidly devoured the interiors of homes leaving behind the permanent ugly scars of Katrina's fury. The dank odour of mold and death intermingled into a horrifying stench. Who would have thought that loss and sadness could have an actual scent? It seemed to me at the time that this could have been a war torn region in Baghdad,and not a city in America at all.

Despite all of this, the inimitable spirit of the brave residents of New Orleans emerged from the dirge of sorrow to celebrate an eventual triumph over their losses and the forces of nature. They  found within the strength to rebuild their lives and homes. Hope really can rise from the ashes of tragedy, and our darkest moments in life can ultimately define who we will become by strengthening our resilience.


An Homage to Frida Kahlo

The central print of this series is an homage to Frida Kahlo's 1938 painting called "What I Saw in The Water".             This painting is sometimes referred to as "What the Water Gave Me"  Greatly inspired by Frida Kahlo's work as a whole, and this painting in particular, I decided to give this series of photographs of mine the same name. 

Frida's"What the Water Gave Me" records an intimate, reflective moment in time in which Kahlo reviews the major concerns of her life, as she takes a bath. We can only see her legs, partially obscured by bath water. The reflection of her toes in the water serve as a visual device  to draw the viewer's eye downwards while also pointing backwards to the events of her life. What the water gave Frida in her painting were images of past and present, life and death, comfort and loss. In the midst of this vision is Frida... kept afloat by a lasso that serves as a tightrope for insects and a miniature dancer. 

In my photographic imagining, we see a multitude of small images that all have some relation to my personal life and my memories of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It is a surreal portrayal of my subconscious mind, as I lie submerged in my Vancouver bathtub, drowned in my imaginings...

-Tanya Linnegar, Vancouver, April 2013