Art photographer Keith Fishman's eye for irony adds yet another element to the emotional tapestry of Katrina. With an unconventional perspective of Zenlike quiet, he can transform a scene's disparate aspects into something almost humorous in the face of tragedy.
For example, in a photo from the battered Gulfport beachfront, King Neptune is seen reigning as always over his seas, one hand raised in benediction - but doing so amid rubble, through the missing wall of the Copa Casino barge.
The drama inherent in Fishman's black-and-white photography heightens its gripping effect.
In an image both poignant and peaceful, the torn but still-standing steeple of a destroyed church is pictured against skies of untarnished purity.
Fishman lives in Santa Barbara, Calif., and came to the Coast as a volunteer photographer for the American Red Cross in the immediate aftermath of the storm. His brother, a doctor, had been asked by a colleague at Wesley Medical Center in Hattiesburg to come help there, and Fishman joined him.
From the hundreds of photos he took, 60 have been culled for "Silent Witness," a traveling exhibit that will open in Hattiesburg on Aug. 29, the one-year anniversary of Katrina. It will be held in the University of Southern Mississippi's art gallery. Proceeds from the sale of any and all of his Katrina photos will go to local charities in the Katrina-hit areas of Mississippi, Fishman said. Which charities have yet to be determined.
"I'm just one guy," Fishman said, "but it's my hope we are going to raise a substantial amount of money. We will be able to give back something to this community at a time when it most needs it. The next disaster is going to happen and that will supersede this one."
The most ironic, haunting picture of his entire show, Fishman says, is Humpty Dumpty still sitting on his wall at the Fun Time USA amusement park at Cowan Road and U.S. 90 in Gulfport.
"Everything was thrown for miles and miles, ripped apart and moved and the only thing that survived was Humpty Dumpty. Why didn't he fall?" Fishman asks.
A dozen of Fishman's photos accompany a feature story about his Katrina photography in the April issue of Black and White magazine, which is a professional publication distributed nationwide.
"My pictures are very quiet, Zenlike, reductionist, minimal," Fishman told the Sun Herald in a phone interview. "There are very few people in my images. Parts are almost humorous, because they are so out of context. They tend to be about the periphery, what most people don't see."
The people he talked to, he said, "... became like a bandage that began the healing process, because they could have smiles" in the face of their disaster.
"I talked to everybody I photographed. I took a lot of time. The show is not about people. It's about things, objects; it becomes amusing, quirky, eerie."
At first glance, Fishman's pictures are very easy, very pleasant, he says. "Then the longer you stay with them, the more challenging they become."