NOOR photographer Stanley Greene

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Acclaimed NOOR photographer describes his traveling exhibit documenting Hurricane Katrina’s effects on Gulf Coast residents and what the photographs say about humanity.

Stanley Green began his career as a painter and segued to photography in the course of taking photos to catalog his work. After studying the craft, the NY native held various jobs, including at Newsday and as a Paris fashion photographer, before turning his attention to devastation in Rwanda, Somalia, Iraq and other locales. Acclaimed for his book Open Wound on the conflict in Chechnya, Greene documents U.S. Gulf Coast residents' struggle to rebuild their lives after Katrina in the exhibition "Those Who Fell Through the Cracks."


Tavis: Stanley Greene is an accomplished photographer and one of the driving forces behind a new exhibit dedicated to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The exhibit is called “Those Who Fell through the Cracks,” showing in Houston beginning August 19th and then on to New Orleans.
He’s also out with a new book of photography called “Black Passport.” Stanley Greene, good to have you on the program, sir.
Stanley Greene: Nice to be here. Thank you.
Tavis: Tell me about the Katrina exhibit.
Greene: Well, it’s a traveling show inside of a truck, and what we hope to do is take it to three locations in Houston and to be able to show the people, the Diaspora that had left New Orleans, who had settled in Houston, to show that them that there were people that cared.
Kadir van Lohuizen and I, who documented this for five years, we felt this was a way to put some closure, in a small way for us, to give them this exhibition, to make this thing happen courtesy of the Open Society, which gave us the money to do it.
Then we go on to New Orleans, where there was the most devastation, and do the same thing there.
Tavis: I think I understand why Houston, but I’ll let you tell me why Houston is the site of the stops.
Smith: Well, Kadir spent a lot of time there. He found families who had been living in the Lower Ninth Ward who were forced to go there with no way back, and he’s been following them almost to the point that he’s even tracked down some of their relatives that were in Haiti who were affected by the earthquake.
So he’s working on that work now, and he’s going to make a connection between what happened in Haiti. If you understand the history that the Blacks that came from Haiti, and if you understand the history that the Blacks that came from Haiti (unintelligible) they came to New Orleans, so there’s always been this kind of attitude and he’s been following these families.
We hope to have some of them around, hopefully, to speak to the public when we exhibit in Houston.
Tavis: What kind of subjects, objects, were you drawn to after the hurricane, that you were personally drawn to?
Greene: Well, for me what was amazing was consumerism. You see in a yard that the SUV is gone but they left the Ferrari or the more expensive car because it just wasn’t practical. They couldn’t get all their stuff in it. So you see this beautiful car totally destroyed; motorcycles. You walk into these houses – we were with the New Orleans police when they would go into the houses – we’d go through these houses and we were just amazed at how much stuff that had been accumulated and how much was left behind.
That hurricane, people lost so much in lives and personal objects and memories, and that to us, particularly for me, and I try to, in my photographs, try to show that loss.
Tavis: With the loss of lives, how is it that you’re drawn as a photographer to the stuff, by your own explanation?
Greene: I always believe you have to show the symbolism of a civilization, whether it be the cave drawings or somebody drawing in the sand in Darfur to show a massacre. This was another way of showing it, by you seeing the family albums, the doll or objects that at one time were held in some kind of precious place for people just abandoned like that, or ripped off of them.
These are the kind of things I always zero in. When I was in Rwanda, it was the same thing. You’re always zeroing in those details. Not just always the bodies, but what makes up the human being.
Greene: What do you – you’re talking about it now, so let me just go a little deeper. What’s your sense of what these photographs are going to tell us about humanity, about suffering, years down the road?
Greene: I think that this work – what I really think is important about this work, it shows us an event that happened where people were abandoned and in so many ways, and yet in the same time there was humanity where people saved each other.
So you have this kind of cross between abandonment and savior, and I think it’s going to show that how a government as powerful as America is was able to drop the ball so badly, then maybe it can be used as a textbook in the future.
Hopefully there won’t be another one like this, but the reality of what’s going on with climate change and everything, and we know that there are seven hurricanes lined up to hit the Gulf, 14 in prediction for the season, we have to start to take these things seriously and we really have to find a way to protect those who do fall the cracks, those who we don’t always remember.
I was explaining to someone recently, I said, “When you go to Mississippi, the whole Vietnamese community that was living there in Biloxi, they got wiped out. Nobody talks about that. We tend to not focus on – there was a lot of people that were affected by that hurricane. I followed that Gulf all the way up to Florida and I heard many stories.
Shrimpers, lots of people lost their lives, their homes, their boats, their cats, their dogs. That’s what I think it shows.
Tavis: Back to the truck. The truck will move around Houston. I’m not so much concerned about the locations as I am how you chose these locations in Houston as the sites where people would come to see this truck with these photos in it.
Greene: We spoke to many people and we tried to get a handle where we could be able to show to everybody the different walks of lives of people that lived in different areas of Houston, and they said that the three areas that we had chosen, that the people would come out for this.
Also, there was a question – we had a huge problem raising money to put this on. In a way, it’s coming out of our own pocket, but we believe in that. We believe in that you have to give something back. This is a way of giving something back.
It’s the same thing in New Orleans. It’s like my belief is that we take that truck all the way up to that wall which had broken down and let all the floodwater in, and show it there.
Tavis: There’s free admission to the truck?
Greene: Yeah.
Tavis: So the truck pulls up and it stays in each location how long?
Greene: I think it’s like a traveling show, for the evening. People come and see it and talk. We’re also planning on discussions, debates and worships. Kadir and I have been working as photographers – I’m almost 30 years and I’m sure he’s got at least 17. We’re willing to share what we know with anyone that wants to come along and ask us a question.
Tavis: Speaking of sharing what you know, I would assume that you would agree that there is value in everyday people, whether you’re a professional as you are or not. There’s value in everyday people documenting their stories through photographs.
Greene: Absolutely. One of the most amazing things that came out of 9/11 was all the pictures taken by amateurs, by people just going to work or coming or saw what was going on and took it. But all forms and various types of cameras, and when you look at that body of work you just see the impact of how photography is – when I taught once, I said that you have to be ready now for any event.
They would look at my pictures and say, “But Mr. Greene, I’m never going to go to those places.” But look at 9/11. Nobody expected that to happen, and those were amateurs that took the best pictures.
Tavis: “Black Passport.” This book is a collection of some of the best of your work over that career. I want to close by asking how the photos that you shot connected to Hurricane Katrina, how does that body of work compare with whatever else you have seen and covered around the world?
I don’t want to color the question any more than that. Just tell me how Hurricane Katrina – situate that for me in your body of work emotionally.
Greene: Well, for me, Katrina was my first trip back to the United States, but the most important thing, it showed everything that I had seen in other places. As I’ve said before, it looked like a bomb had hit a lot of places. I’d never seen such force, and it was Mother Nature.
As George Bush’s infamous for once saying by mistake, he said, “Mother Nature is a terrorist.” So it was – the devastation of it, when you think of bombs being dropped on people and then you think that a hurricane could come through and do that, the same amount of damage, it was a wake-up call in a lot of ways.
Tavis: His name is Stanley Greene. His book is called “Black Passport,” a collection of some of the best of his work. The traveling exhibit on this truck is called “Those Who Fell through the Cracks.” Stanley, thanks for your work and it’s an honor to have you on the program.
Greene: Thank you very much.
Tavis: Thank you.
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Last modified: April 26, 2011 at 12:28 pm