Saturday, March 8, 2014

Unintended Journeys

Where: National Museum of Natural History

When: through August 13, 2014

This is the most somber show I've ever seen at Natural History.  Usually, I leave an exhibit with a spring in my step, happy to have expanded my knowledge of art, or the natural world, or history.  After seeing this photography display, I walked back to the office slowly, lost in thoughts about the horrors some people face on a daily basis and how little those stories are conveyed to those of us lucky enough not to live them.

This show, sponsored by the Windland Smith Rice Nature's Best Photography Fund (you'll recall that Windland Smith Rice is the person for whom the excellent nature photography contest winner show is named) consists of photographs of and information about natural disasters and the effects they have on human beings.  The "unintended journeys" of the title refer to the disruptions people face and how they are wrested from their homes and lives when disaster strikes.

Included in the show are New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, Japan after the tsunami, Haiti after the earthquake (including some information on the art program established for children there, which was the subject of a very interesting show at the Ripley), the desertification in East Africa that has resulted from the massive relocation of war refugees and the torrential flooding that is a regular feature of life in Bangladesh.

Katrina is the event with which Americans are the most familiar, obviously, but these other cataclysms dwarf the hurricane's devastation.  Approximately 1,800 people were killed in Katrina, which is horrifying.  Over 225, 000 are believed to have died in the Haitian earthquake.  The loss of life and complete overthrow of everyday activities cannot be imagined.

I did try to remember that, even in the face of such horror, the resilience of the human spirit is something to admire and by which we can all be inspired.  It was hard, though.  So many people killed, so many others terribly wounded, a vast number dislocated.  Truly, this show is a reminder that if you are living an ordinary life and have an ordinary day, you are a very lucky person.

Verdict: Well worth a visit.  The photography is stunning, and the subject matter is important.

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