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'Art of Distruction' photo exhibit

By John Thomas Staff Writer The point of a show highlighting photographs of Hurricane Sandy eluded me when I first heard about “The Art of Destruction: Images of Superstorm Sandy”. If there is one thing that the natural disaster had already added to the cultural discourse, it would be the bevy of images from the storm and its aftermath. These now iconic photographs were brought to those of us lucky enough to have power in real time over our social networks and a variety of media. So, as I walked to the back of the student center to look at the handful of handfuls of pictures that compromised the exhibition, I was prepared to meet it with a sullen, reflective boredom. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the intimacy, and earnestness of the images on display.

Photo by Debra Lom, Courtesy of Hofstra University Archives

“Destruction” is a terse show. It is compromised of only a couple dozen photographs, but this adds to the exhibit’s poignant atmosphere.  I will not purport to know all that much about photography, but I do know a little bit about aesthetics and narrative, and the story weaved by this sequence of pictures was wholly cathartic and desolately beautiful. While all of the artists show an adept grasp of the emotional power of photojournalism, Harrison Knowles and Ryan Brook definitely stood apart from their peers. Knowles captured a van, with a couple of men trying to get into the back, pummeled by a torrent of water that looks nothing short of apocalyptic. He frames the picture like an independent disaster film, with no hint of sensationalism or misplaced dread. The horizon line stretches across the piece at a suffocating height, as that’s where the water meets the sun, as if the sea was swallowing the entire block whole. Brook’s most striking piece was titled “Tree Trunk,” and featured the eponymous trunk shattered, not split. It’s a sort of destruction that you expect from a disaster like a hurricane, but not in such a surprisingly morose fashion. Another stand out piece by Knowles’ was one that featured a completely water wrecked car with a sign on one of the seats that read “For Sale, Hurricane Sandy Special” evidences the humor that can result from any tragedy, in a tasteful, sensitive way that doesn’t belittle the utter devastation that contextualizes the image. Amy Khan was able to capture a different kind of hope with a photo of two earrings that a family had thought lost for years before the Hurricane that were revealed by the destruction of their home. This is a clever photograph that must have been taken in the moment, and shows that Khan has a quick mind that understands what should be photographed and what stories need to be told. This is a must see retrospective at Hofstra. It will be shown until Feb. 12 in the student center dining hall. I recommend that you spend some time processing the images and the circumstances in which they were produced.

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