NOTE: BagNewsNotes is now located at Please update your bookmarks.

You will be automatically redirected in a few seconds...

« Your Turn: There's Water and There's The Barrel | Main | More Shame »

Sep 06, 2005

Blinded By The Light?

Wednesday, August 31st 


Thursday, September 1st 


Thursday, September 1st 


Friday, September 2nd 


Friday, September 2nd


Saturday, September 3rd

Certainly, most of the Katrina images last week were unvarnished and pulled no punches.  At the same time, however, I'm wondering how much of what we saw was still edited according to the taste of a mainstream viewing audience (MSVA?) that tends to alternate in disaster preference between sensationalism and denial.

To illustrate, I go back to where I began in focusing on the Katrina disaster: The New Orleans Superdome.  Years from now, when the country looks back on "the events of August 28th; 29th; 30th, etc.," I wonder if they will recognize The Superdome (in combination with the Convention Center) as the "ground zero" or the emotional epicenter of the disaster.   To what extent will this site still be recalled as a monument for the failure to stand up for the country's most weak and vulnerable?  Alternatively, we might also ask how much and for how long the Superdome might even remain a significant part of the recollection.  (If you look at the latest cover of The Economist, for example, notice how the Superdome and the Convention Center merge with the city in a gauzy background.)

In questioning whether the painful memory of the Superdome will be honored and preserved, I can't help wondering if the recording and preservation of the event was largely inhibited from the start.

Because I was focused on The Superdome from the beginning of the crisis, I scanned the media every day for visual evidence of the trauma, fear and squalor inside that stadium.  (And Now We Are In Hell -- Link).  Somehow, however, I just never came across images of the despair as so painfully described in the written accounts.   

Finally, on Saturday morning -- coinciding with the near-total evacuation of the building -- I decided to go back through the YahooNews photos (using the search terms "Katrina" and "Superdome") to find the images I must have missed which would illustrate "life" inside that building over those past five days.  Starting from Saturday and working backward, I went through all 200+ newswire photos until I arrived at Monday, August 29 -- which was the point at which people began filling up the stadium. 

What I discovered was disturbing but not surprising.

All I found were more of these beautiful (some might even say almost spiritual or mystical) depictions of the sun's rays piercing the dome (with most evidence of decrepitude or suffering left to the margins, usually at "ant size" scale). Beyond these remote, long angle shots, I only came upon a single close up from inside the building after Tuesday.  (The picture showed a fairly clean man posing while holding up a sign for help.)

So my question is, weren't any "non-romanticized" photos taken inside the Dome after the first day or so? And if so, why haven't we seen any? And if not, why not?

Certainly, there were quite a few news photographers inside the building throughout the week. Would these intrepid people argue that photos could only be taken from a symbolic Green Zone? And what about amateur images? I understand most local residents arrived with next-to-nothing, but what about those tourists who still had their luggage? In light of the images that emerged during the London subway attacks, is it possible there weren't even any cell phone photos?

Or, is it that the media (serious or tabloid) didn't care to offer the cash to uncover such pictures?

Finally, I had a few observations about these poetic images themselves. 

Considering the almost biblical nature of these pictures, I couldn't help wondering what happened to the major voices of the Christian right last week. Watching the wretched scenes from the outside of these fated buildings, I thought:  If there ever was a moment (let alone, a whole week) where the terms "Pro-Life" or "Compassionate Conservatism" came into play, it was this one.

Regarding the mass media, I applaud the efforts of journalists, editors and correspondents (many working for heavily anesthetized Bush-era news organizations) who stuck their necks out further and opened their eyes wider than they have in a long time. However, intense trauma is always going to disturb a lethargy. Short of that, the inclination to convert inhumanity into art or spectacle is something one must fight every day.

As I look at these haunting photos, however, there's a place in the back of my mind that keeps thinking about Abu Ghraib. Marveling at these beautiful beams of light -- like the fingers of God -- I wonder how things would have differed if the Abu Ghraib photos had been taken on a brilliantly sunny day, next to windows, from at least fifty yards away.

(image 1: STAFF PHOTO/ DAVID GRUNFELD. Louisiana Superdome. Wednesday, August 31, 2005. image 2a: Marko Georgiev for The New York Times. New Orleans Superdome. September 1, 2005. image 2b: Khampha Bouaphanh -- Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Thursday, September 1, 2005. At image 3a.) REUTERS/Jason Reed. Louisiana Superdome. September 2, 2005. YahooNews. image 3b. Jason Reed/Reuters. Louisiana Superdome. September 2, 2005. YahooNews. image 4: Tyler Hicks/The New York Times. September 3, 2005. New Orleans Superdome. New York Times page A11 and


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Blinded By The Light?:


I had only seen the "beam me up" photo (#3 here) before, and marveled at how the photog could've achieved the exposure. Not knowing what the ambient light level was, it's hard to guess. One thing's for sure: there must've been a lot of dust inside the Superdome, for those shafts to appear. Or maybe smoke from fires inside our elsewhere in downtown.

I must say that you're critiques always seem to hit the nail right on the head. I'm astonished every time at how much I still don't know about the biases in the 'point of view' as you say (although I feel I've learnt a lot from this site). While I don't post here often, I don't know how I'd be able to make half the sense of what's going on without your website.

Thank you.

No great insight here, but these photos immediately caught my eye as the Superdome accidently re-enacting the the dramatic architectural programme of Rome's Pantheon. A building which conincidentally also experienced historic floods and which also was erected by a great republic which decayed into an autocratic empire.

Haunting photos.

re the superdome. if the oprah program is any measure, bush is toast. i can't even begin to convey what that segment only hinted at -- but if you, like me, wondered if those stories you heard weren't hyped -- they were not. it was worse.

I read of some of the accounts, problems, etc. at, which covers news not covered in major markets (?).

The superdome may be torn down, according to the photo attached to this article. I think that is premature. Right now there is filth and debris covering everything; once they get that out of the way, they can see if the structural damage makes the building unsalvageable. Concrete is supposed to be washable. If nothing else, they can remember the Augean Stables!

And, yes, Bush may indeed be toast... which is why he has ***personally*** promised an investigation and is trying very, very hard to look "in command of the storm relief effort". :pffft!: I suppose that will be the agencies' "accountability moment".

"Bush launches inquiry and puts himself in charge of it"

His saying that the head of FEMA something, whom he calls "Brownie," was doing "a heck of a job" is raising aghast eyebrows deep in the bowels of his administration. Apparently Rove is taking charge of matters:

"The president's principal political operatives have all but commandeered the leadership of the much-criticized Federal Emergency Management Agency. This form of direct control is likely to continue while there is a perceived political danger to the president."

The first stage is controlling the media (sound familiar???)

"FEMA Wants No Photos of Dead. ... The Federal Emergency Management Agency, heavily criticized for its slow response to the devastation caused by the hurricane, rejected journalists' requests to accompany rescue boats searching for storm victims. ... "We have requested that no photographs of the deceased be made by the media," the spokeswoman said in an e-mail."

If the reporters can't accompany the rescuers, that means that there will be NO freedom of the press to report on what is happening out there: no rescues, no spottings of fires or chemical spills, no terrified animals, and certainly no bodies. Bush tried to wrest control of Louisiana from Blanco so that he could shift blame downwards and cover the calamity. This is just another effort. However, the reporters were there before FEMA, and I doubt if they can be so easily dislodged now... unless it is at the point of a gun (which is all too likely). If the only thing they were afraid of was loss of dignity for the victims, they could ask the photographers for discretion... and still let them loose in the neighborhoods.

Broussard said, " ... Take whatever idiot they have at the top of whatever agency and give me a better idiot. Give me a caring idiot. Give me a sensitive idiot. Just don't give me the same idiot.",0,2428593.story?coll=ny-homepage-bigpix2005


"Weary from a week spent touring his damaged state, including the wreckage of his 154-year-old family home in Pascagoula, Miss., Republican Sen. Trent Lott choked up in mid-sentence Tuesday while talking with reporters who wanted to know how his constituents rated Bush's response.

"When Air Force One lands we don't see the president, we see the presidency," Lott said. Unable to finish, Lott shook his head and walked into the chamber."

So where do those reporters put their allegiance? In the truth as they can sniff it out? Or in the lies spun by Rove and his minions? There has been a breath of fresh air along with the criticism. Either it will be a momentary whiff of journalistic integrity, or a presage of another type of storm altogether. The reporters themselves might bring back the evidence, but the editors know who pays the bosses' salaries. I'm not that hopeful.


Glad you pointed these out -- these are the most interesting photos from New Orleans, I think, other than the shots of "looters" carrying food.

I wonder if this isn't a case of photographers being unable to resist the technical opportunity that the beam of light presented: collected together, these photos start to look like a gallery produced by advanced photography students. It's creepy to imagine photographers concentrating on capturing those beams of light while so many people languished around them.

I'm sure that most of the pictures of squalor were censored; you just can't print shots of rivers of human waste flowing from bathrooms and across stretches of arena. But what makes no sense to me is the lack of portraits inside the Superdome. I haven't seen a single face belonging to the thousands trapped inside.

Equally amazing to me is that this was a site of large scale misery and there's no video evidence. That the entire arena was closed to video says a lot about the deprivation inside: the people entering the Superdome disappeared from the world for those days and entered a micro-hell.

Let's remember that there was no electricity in the Superdome. So there was no light. Any photographer walking around in the dark, shooting flash pictures, would be something of a boob.

I was surprised — and said so in a recent discussion — of how little information came out at first about what it was like in the Superdome. And to this day, so little of it is vetted that one can't take the stories at face value.

I'm sure it was horrible there. I just don't know that I've received the unvarnished and unembellished truth.

As to the beams of light, any photographer is going to see that and be compelled to focus on it. It's the nature of photographers.

Maybe it's thanks to the issue of racism in the MSM echoing in my head, but my first thought as looking at these images was that some opressive authority was spotlighting the "residents" of the Superdome to keep them from acting up. My second thought was that the power was out and that spotlights weren't functioning.

Wow, anon, my first reaction was like yours: I didn't know they had electricity for spotlights in the Superdome.

And, yes, where are the photos?

My initial take on the photos was also similar to anon's--that the beams of light were either internal spotlights or helicopter spotlights trying to quell unrest. That's what I saw before reading the text below the pictures.

Purple: Let's remember that there was no electricity in the Superdome. So there was no light. Any photographer walking around in the dark, shooting flash pictures, would be something of a boob.

Ah, but even in some of these photos you can see a decent exposure of a foreground subject (with no blur, so it wasn't a long shutter). If the camera had been turned just slightly, it could've captured a portrait.

As to the beams of light, any photographer is going to see that and be compelled to focus on it. It's the nature of photographers.

As the saying goes, 'Light is the only subject.' And when it poses....

shelters and places where people persevered, or sacrificed themselves heroically for noble causes are preserved and celebrated.

"Remember the Alamo" and never forget 9/11 come to mind; even Auschwitz and the killing fields of WWI, and Cambodia, with all the horrors that they conjure remain appropriate artifacts.

flag-draped bodies used to be something we cried about, certainly, but honored, too, without question ~ or direction from political leaders: it seemed natural to do so; and, frankly ~ it seems weird and inhumane to hide them away nowadays... if "there is no glory" therein?

The Superdome was, despite all the squalor and suffering, a place of heroism, too; a place where forgotten, abandoned people persevered and ultimately, survived.

iow, they are not simply "victims" they are also "victors" ~ and if ever there was an example of "self reliance", against all the forces of nature and madmen, then this was their story.

But, IMHO The SuperDome will forever be a place remembered all over the world and forever through time as the place where this nation, this Super Power was by the sacrifice of its most helpless citizens, shamed.

>it's thanks to the issue of racism in the MSM echoing in my head, but my first thought as looking at these images was that some opressive authority was spotlighting the "residents" of the Superdome to keep them from acting up. My second thought was that the power was out and that spotlights weren't functioning.

You're reading too much into it... it's just a pretty shot that the photogs couldn't stay away from. The Big Picture is always far more appealing than a tight shot for some photogs. And the sunbeams *are* compelling photography.

Funny - when I saw these, I thought the same thing as someone did above - they are extremely evocative of the Pantheon!

Great post. I've been thinking about this as well. Also where are the pictures inside the convention center?
Here's one in German Mag, Stern, wide view but certainly not pretty:

Perhaps the photographers were just afraid to risk themselves inside. Here's a report from one photographer:

I heard on CNN today that FEMA had requested that the media not photograph/film/tape bodies in the water b/c of their extreme state of decomposition.

right. more like they don't exist w/out the pics.

just happy, hopeful images like these from now on, okay guys?


I don't think you've ever said a word, but you've certainly managed some very fine editorial comments via your exceedingly precise links to spot-on images. Wow! Being that brief and that accurate is a rare gift.


I remember a CNN front page image from inside eht Superdome of a large black man putting a blanket over the corpse of a man who had had a seizure and died right before the CNN reporter's eyes.

But indeed, I too remember wondering where the photos from inside the Superdome were. The lack of communications infrastructre accounts for some of the absence of photos, but my video camera (which is not especially high end) will film and take pictures at the kind of light levels they had. So the light levels don't explain enough.

I'll stand corrected on my comments about how it was perhaps too dark to take pictures inside the Superdome, at least in open areas. But as to reports of thuggery and gang members and guns and such, those guys aren't going to be quite so out in the open.




Ick. Those are very poshlostiy photos up the top. Now is not the time for pretending to be Ansel Adams.



I'm dyslexic... I knew the letter had a tail.

Great critique of those photos at the dome.

Thought you'd appreciate the picture here:

Slaves For Sale At The Rotunda, New Orleans, 1842

Keep up the Good Work!

Whenever you want real journalism about the US, read the foreign press.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

My Other Accounts

Blog powered by TypePad
Member since 07/2003