Coastal Bivouac

Tonight I was looking though my phone and rediscovered some of the happy-snaps I made while on Grand Isle, La. during the Gulf Expedition back in June.  74 people (a few not through Kickstarter) provided funds to allow me to go to the Gulf, and without their support the images that will be displayed at Flow could not have been made.  During the few weeks that I was in south Louisiana I tried to provided updates to those supporters via the Kickstarter project page.  The updates at that time (I have since started posting public updates again) were for supporters only so they are not visible to everyone, and because of bandwidth issues I often made short status updates to Facebook between postings to Kickstarter.  Many of the longer Kickstarter updates were phoned into my wife who would post them for me.  She always made me sound smart, and even though I was living the experience, she was able to distill my late night ramblings into something many of my project supporters would send positive comments about.  These phone calls took place after the sun  went down, often from the tent above.

My tent was set up just behind the levee which marks the beginning of the beach (also visible in the picture).  Just on the other side of that hill was the view America was watching on the nightly news.  After a long day of working in the oppressive heat and struggling to find “the zone”, I often could not really rest once the sun went down.  I would retire to camp to find the temperatures never really seeming to lower and massive swarms of mosquitoes looking to feast.  You see, there was a lagoon behind the camera which made the image above.  Often the white mesh on the tent would be thick with the blood suckers which were attracted by my breathing and body heat.  Rest, was never really rest.  Even so, the tent allowed me to stretch out after being on my feet, standing at the rear of the truck at my darkbox all day, or running to the camera  120 yards away over and over.

Camping in the environment in which I was working was not only done to conserve funds, and because there were no rooms within 140 miles of Grand Isle (BP, the media, National Guard, and contractors had taken everything for weeks at a time), but also because it seemed like the right thing to do.  It is true it added to the hardship, and may have even had an impact on my ability to work efficiently in the last few days of the expedition, but it allowed me to really feel the place.  I became a part of it.  At least much more so than the other visitors doing day-trip drive-bys.  Unlike the organized media photographers, and the amateurs that drove down from New Orleans each day to snap a few images then return to good food, beds, and air conditioning, I experienced something that they could not.  The nightly rumble of heavy equipment on the beach, troops setting barriers, generators feeding power to blazing lights, the sound of the tide bringing in more oil, and waking up to the smell of crude dancing on the breezy are all elements of the event I would never have been exposed to.  All of these things impossible to capture with my photographic process, but the experience influenced the images I did attempt to make and planted seeds for things I did not have time for.

With a straight face, I can also tell you that I had a few flashbacks to my year-long stay in Baghdad Iraq back in 2003/2004.  The heat, sounds, smells, and the 24 hour presence of you people in uniform brought back many memories.  Throw in the UH60 Blackhawk helicopters that would land on the ball field not too far away and the stage was almost complete.   The dark, just like music, can take you places.


~ by Phil Nesmith on August 20, 2010.

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