Brain Pickings

Hurricane Story: A Haunting Analog Photo-Memoir of Katrina, Partway Between Nightmare and Fairy Tale

by

What red glitter shoes have to do with one family’s plight to find order in chaos.

When Hurricane Katrina swept across New Orleans in August of 2005, killing 1,836 people, damaging and destroying over 76,000 houses, and leaving many homeless, photographer Jennifer Shaw found solace in capturing the turmoil with a plastic Holga camera. Hers is a story both incredible and true — from the dramatic birth of her first child on the very day of Katrina’s first strike, to her struggle with depression and her husband’s rage episodes, to their eventual return to New Orleans in time for their son’s first Mardi Gras. Hurricane Story (public library) is part memoir, part fairy tale, part poetic story of exile and homecoming, told through 46 beautiful, dreamlike images and simple but powerful prose. The Holga’s rudimentary functionality, with its limited control over exposure, focus and lighting, further intensifies the story’s haunting, cinematic feel, drawing you into a seemingly surreal world that sprang from an extraordinary and brave reality.

New York Times columnist and Significant Objects author Rob Walker writes in the foreword:

Any city worth living in strikes a balance between order and chaos. I guess any life worth living strikes that balance too. In late August 2005, Jennifer Shaw’s city, and I can only assume her life, tilted too far in one direction. The remarkable series of forty-six images collected in Hurricane Story tells the tale, and in doing so sets the balance right again.

'We left in the dark of night.'

Image courtesy of Jennifer Shaw / Chin Music Press

'My water broke at one-thirty that morning.'

Image courtesy of Jennifer Shaw / Chin Music Press

'The next morning we turned on the TV.'

Image courtesy of Jennifer Shaw / Chin Music Press

'It was impossible not to watch.'

Image courtesy of Jennifer Shaw / Chin Music Press

'We took our hurricane sideshow on the road.'

Image courtesy of Jennifer Shaw / Chin Music Press

'It was nice to have a distraction.'

Image courtesy of Jennifer Shaw / Chin Music Press

'FEMA hauled off our downed trees.'

Image courtesy of Jennifer Shaw / Chin Music Press

'It was months til the phone was restored.'

Image courtesy of Jennifer Shaw / Chin Music Press

'We got a new roof before Christmas.'

Image courtesy of Jennifer Shaw / Chin Music Press

'Anointed in glitter, we reclaimed the streets.'

Image courtesy of Jennifer Shaw / Chin Music Press

Hurricane Story comes from indie publisher Chin Music Press and is one of the most spellbinding pieces of personal history ever captured.

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