After Sandy, conflict photographer turns his lens on natural disaster

Gilles Peress is a venerated photographer with more than four decades of experience covering human conflict everywhere from Bosnia to Northern Ireland.

“I’m more familiar with man-made disasters,” he explains.

But when the sun rose the morning after Hurricane Sandy, Peress left his home in Brooklyn and set out for Breezy Point, Queens, to document his first natural disaster. His photos show the Rockaways in a state of raw destruction: charred foundations, power lines dangling in floodwater, entire blocks flattened.

Peress’s arresting images were recently published in a new book of photographs, “The Rockaways,” which also features essays and reporting by journalists and Rockaways residents. The book is free; its publisher, Concord Free Press, asks that anyone who takes a copy donate to a Hurricane Sandy relief organization or charity of their choice.

Metro New York interviewed Peress about his time in the Rockaways.

What was it like that first morning?

It’s on the order of war. I’ve gone to many conflicts and Breezy Point looked like a war landscape. Untold devastation.

How did people — many of whom had just lost all of their worldly possessions — react when they saw you taking pictures of the rubble in the days immediately after the storm?

In Breezy Point there was almost no one. It was really emptied out. The people that were there were absorbed by the situation. They had other problems.

It sounds like it was almost a post-apocalyptic scene.

It’s very similar to many movies that have been produced in the last few years that are about climate change and global warming and disaster situations. So it’s very thematic in a certain way.

Are most of the photos from the weeks immediately after the storm?

It was in the week after. I was supposed to be on my way to Florida for another project. I was essentially delayed; I couldn’t leave New York with this whole situation happening. So I stayed about a week, 10 days.

It’s something that’s happened to me before. I was in New York for 9/11 and I was supposed to leave for Afghanistan. But in my experience it’s hard for me to leave when the city is in such trauma.

If you think about it, the city has had to deal with many traumas since the beginning of the century: You had 9/11, you had the collapse of the financial markets, the kind of problems that are so big. It’s big city, big problems.

And as it’s happening, you begin to realize the magnitude of it. But at first you’re not necessarily aware of that.

This is a fairly common experience of history, where in the middle of it, people don’t know that we’re in the middle of it. The whole thing— whether it’s about Sandy or 9/11 or the collapse of the financial markets— is how to deal with history as it happens. To not be ignorant of it.

It seems the answer for you has been to document it in photographs.

Yes, I want to be aware. I want to be aware of history as it unfolds.

This interview has been edited and condensed.




News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Brooklyn man charged in roommate's stabbing death

A Brooklyn man accused of violently stabbing his roommate to death on Monday is in police custody and faces murder charges.

International

Dinosaurs could have survived asteroid strike

It turns out there is a good and a bad time for the planet to be hit by a meteor, and dinosaurs were just unlucky.…

National

OkCupid admits to Facebook-style experimenting on customers

By Sarah McBrideSAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - OkCupid, a top U.S. matchmaking website, intentionally mismatched users to test its technology, the IAC/InterActive Corp service said on…

Local

MTA fares still increasing 4 percent in newly…

The agency said the 4 percent increases, previously announced in December, will remain steady even as the MTA deals with increasing labor costs.

Movies

Interview: Brendan Gleeson on the way 'Calvary' depicts…

Brendan Gleeson talks about how his new film "Calvary" began over drinks and how his character here is the opposite of the lead in "The Guard."

Movies

'Get on Up' producer Mick Jagger on the…

Mick Jagger, a producer on the James Brown biopic "Get on Up," talks about the time had to tell the singer some bad news and his favorite JB record.

Television

'Glee' star Lea Michele to appear on 'Sons…

"Glee" star Lea Michele has been confirmed as a guest star in the final season of "Sons of Anarchy."

Television

TV watch list, Monday, July 28: 'The Bachelorette'…

See Andi Dorfman make her big choice on tonight's 'Bachelorette' finale.

MLB

Angelo Cataldi: Ryan Howard deserves better from Phillies

Just last week, Ryan Howard endured the embarrassment of a benching that was inevitable, and yet still shocking.

NFL

Larry Donnell has inside track in Giants tight…

Little-known Larry Donnell of Grambling State currently has the inside track, as the second-year player has received the bulk of the first-team reps.

NFL

Computer to Jets: Start Michael Vick over Geno…

Jets general manager John Idzik says the choice of who starts between second-year quarterback Geno Smith and veteran Michael Vick will be a “Jets decision.”

MLB

Yankees looking to trade for Josh Willingham: Report

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Sunday the Yankees are interested in Twins outfielder Josh Willingham.

Travel

Glasgow: Hey, hey, the gangs aren't here

This European city has done a good job getting rid of its more violent residents and revitalizing with artists.

Education

Babson College tops list of best colleges for…

Money magazine has just released its inaugural list of "The Best Colleges for Your Money" -- and the answers have surprised many. Babson College, which…

Education

NYC teens learn how to develop apps during…

Through a program sponsored by CampInteractive, the high schoolers designed their own community-focused apps.

Tech

The Ministry of Silly Walks app is both…

Monty Python have dug into their back catalogue for cash-ins once more, but with the Ministry of Silly Walks app, they've made something that's fun too.