Art in Crisis

by Leah Meyerhoff

A filmmaker confronts Hurricane Sandy

When the hurricane hit, my first impulse was to grab a bike and a camera, but that soon gave way to a face mask and a shovel.

I began to think a lot about the role of the artist in a time of crisis. Is it more important to document or to lend a helping hand? Are those things necessarily mutually exclusive?

Ultimately, I found an uneasy compromise between the two. In the mornings, I organized large groups of other filmmakers to help with demolition and cleanup. And in the afternoons I would sneak away with my camera for an hour or two.

It became a bit schizophrenic – the filmmaker’s impulse to find beauty in destruction vs the human impulse to alleviate suffering. I think there is power in images, and in the long term documenting is just as important as physical labor, but it is still a tricky line to walk.

It has been inspiring to watch production designers break down drywall, costume designers sort through donated clothing and editors learn how to siphon gas. Although the scope of the situation is daunting, we can continue to help one basement (and one image) at a time.