NEW YORK, NY.-
In a brand-new Limited Edition to benefit Prospect New Orleans
, acclaimed New York artist Fred Tomaselli has taken as his starting point one of the most harrowing post-Katrina media images. On the front page of the New York Times for Wednesday, August 31, 2005, readers saw the first printed images of the city engulfed by waters, and Tomaselli has astutely captured the sense of unreality and dislocation still associated with this image in the popular imagination. A full day following the hurricanes pounding of the region, and when most of the world (including New Orleans itself) believed the city had been spared the worst, the levee system had unexpectedly failed in multiple locations, rapidly submerging eighty percent of the city in toxic waters for nearly three full weeks.
With the New Orleans skyline visible in the photographs distance, Tomaselli has traced the floodwaters course through a web of interlocking colored bands that suggest a psychedelic translation of water soundings overlaid on top of yellowed, faded newsprint colors. Because of the exaggerated horizontal perspective of the headline photo, the brightly colored bands outline only those buildings located closest to the cameras lens, in the photographs lower two-thirds. As a result, the buildings themselves, the highway traversing the photo, and the distant skyscrapers downtown, are the only part of the image that have not been altered, but their appearance seems ghostly by comparison to the harsh colors of the water tearing through the streets like an unstoppable virus.
As the countrys most authoritative and influential newspaper, The New York Times coverage of the post-Katrina floods in New Orleans became for millions of readers the most reliable source of information about the catastrophe. Yet Tomasellis image jolts us in a way that the original photograph or even the original front page cannot, by reminding us of the distancing effect that media imagery has, especially in cases where the impact on the ground is so devastating as to seem incomprehensible. We can see buildings, streets, and a skyline, but what is missing is the city itself -- its people and culture. They have all driven out by the destructive power that the garish bands of color represent.