NEW YORK, NY.-
In 2012, the Jersey Shore was devastated by Hurricane Sandy and remains under threat from storms, erosion, and rising sea levels. Most of the media coverage of Sandy focused on the event. The less sensational story of how people recovered, rebuilt, and moved on with their lives was left largely unreported.
New Jersey based photographer Ira Wagner, who owns a home on the Jersey Shore, became interested in the long-term effects of Sandy on the community during the summer of 2013 when he noticed houses along the shoreline being lifted through a rudimentary elevation system referencing the age-old communal activity of barn raising. Ranging from modest bungalows to mansions, they appeared to Wagner to be sitting up in the air on wooden supports that looked so wobbly you could push them over.
Fascinated by what he witnessed, in the spring of 2014 Wagner began to systemically photograph homes being raised along the NJ shoreline where this intriguing method of reconstruction had escalated dramatically. The results are gathered together in Houseraising
(Daylight Books, July 2018), a remarkable typology of these strange looking structures and a harbinger of our increasingly urgent battle with the forces of nature we have unwittingly unleashed.
Houseraising also explores the meaning of home and why individuals take the risk of rebuilding on shaky ground. Metaphorically speaking, the universal, primal forces that draw people to return home are stronger than a category 5 hurricane.
Rachael Shwom, an associate professor in the Department of Human Ecology and associate director of the Rutgers Energy Institute, contributes the book's foreword entitled "All I Know." It is her personal account of surviving Hurricane Sandy while living on the top two floors of a rental house in the lowland of Highlands New Jersey with her two daughters. The only damage she incurred was to her belongings stored in the basement. She still lives on the Jersey Shore today in a raised house she purchased in 2017.
She writes: "I look at the sea from my porch in the morning with my coffee and run the Henry Hudson trail with my kids on their bikes and just enjoy each day that we do that. And so with all that I know, I make my home 11 feet above the ground, near the sea for the time being."
Houseraising includes an essay by George Marshall entitled "Building on Silence: How the New Jersey Shore Responds to Climate Change without Talking about Climate Change." Marshall is the co-founder of Climate Outreach, a nonprofit based in Oxford, England. Here, Marshall is interested in observing how the experience of a super storm such as Hurricane Sandy affects people's attitudes and behavior and whether the response of the communities along the Jersey Shore might foretell how others would respond to the acceleration of climate change.
Marshall writes about Wagner's contribution to the conversation: "This is why Ira Wagner's photographs, fascinating as a historical record, have a wider significance for the clues they provide about how the built environment, and people's relationship to it, might alter in coming years."
Ira Wagner has been an Adjunct Professor of Photography at Monmouth University since 2013 when he received an MFA from the University of Hartford. His work has been published in National Geographic Magazine, The New Republic, Wired.com, and Slate, among other publications, and has been shown in numerous solo, group and juried shows throughout the United States. He and his wife live in New Jersey.