Once Again by Amy Medina
Tuesday an exhibition of photographs related to last year’s assault by the one-time Hurricane Sandy opened at the Museum of the City of New York. It will run through March 2, 2014. I saw a sort-of-preview at the International Center of Photography in September.
The photography critic, James Estrin, headlined his blog post on the exhibition, “A Prosaic View of Hurricane Sandy.” The title provokes several questions, including: Is it possible the results of Sandy point toward a future when similar events will become ordinary, everyday, vapid, humdrum, tedious, tiresome, uninteresting… prosaic?
Based on our behavior, this is how most of us perceive 150 murders a day in Syria (in the US three people are killed by gun per hour) or the continuing suffering in Haiti or the accelerating entropy of US infrastructure or… another choice from a long list of seemingly intractable crises. Plenty of prose is available on each. But persuasive insight?
Photojournalism by Matt Nighswander/NBC News
Many — maybe most — of the more than 200 images in the exhibit are amateur color digitals of Americans in the midst of circumstances we still consider far outside the ordinary: destroyed homes, flooded streets, surrounded by mountains of donated clothes, waiting in long lines for water or food or fuel. The images personalize vulnerability (or should I write threat or consequence or simply stick with risk?).
Because you read Homeland Security Watch, you would probably do what I did with most of these photographs: Connect each human face and its context to a policy, strategy, or tactic. Consequence of subsidized insurance. Consequence of delayed maintenance. Consequence of unsolicited donations. Consequence of coordination failure. Consequence of faulty problem analysis. And so it goes, cause and effect unfolding.
None of this is necessarily wrong. Observation and analysis are among the best bets in the human toolkit. Lessons-learned can be very important the next time. But I suggest this is seeing — and thinking — in prose.
Image_DSC6477b.jpg by Alex Fradkin
Prose is where most of us should spend most of our time and energy. There are ordinary, everyday, tedious problems and issues to engage. A bit more time and energy on a disciplined process of risk analysis for fuel distribution in the New York metro area would have paid big dividends twelve months ago.
But there is also a profound need for more poetic seeing, thinking, and doing.
Prose can be good at breaking apart the complicated into its component parts. Prose alone is usually insufficient for perceiving — in any meaningful way — the whole or envisioning entirely new possibilities. Prose needs at least a touch of poetry to move from understanding to transforming.
The classical Greeks understood poiesis, from which our poetry is derived, as any kind of creating or making. Trying to interpret the Greek sense of the term, Martin Heidegger blends making (machen), production (herstellen), and power (macht). Does anyone anymore even aspire to this sort of poetics?
The problems and opportunities of homeland security need both prose and poetry. But we are especially deficient in poetry.
Jetstar by Alex Fradkin