Destroy This Memory

Richard Misrach: Destroy This Memory edited by Richard Misrach. Aperture. Hardcover, 140 pages. $65.

The cover of Richard Misrach: Destroy This Memory

Richard Misrach’s camera follows hard upon carnage. Whether it’s a crater-pocked desert landscape used by the navy as a bombing range or dead-animal disposal sites adjacent to contaminated military installations, he’s drawn to the imagery of aftermath. No surprise, then, that he headed to New Orleans in the fall of 2005 and began recording what the floodwaters had left behind. Among the many documentary records of Katrina’s devastation, Misrach’s images form a distinct and provocative subcategory: pictures of graffiti scrawled on wrecked buildings, vehicles, and even trees. The photos—which are entirely devoid of people—don’t just provide the now-familiar account of ruined homes and strewn debris but also give pungent, poetic voice to the absent inhabitants. There are purposeful markings made by rescue workers noting dates and information like POSSIBLE BODY or NO ANIMALS FOUND INSIDE. Messages from displaced residents vent complaint (I GOT FUCK BY ALLSTATE), warning (LOOTERS SHOT—SURVIVORS SHOT AGAIN), despair (LOST OUR ASSES; KATRINA U BITCH), and gallows humor (ELVIS HAS LEFT THE HOUSE). Whether pissed-off, plaintive, or matter-of-fact, these spray-painted messages speak sharply—their telegraphic grammar and untidy lettering conveying serrated immediacy. In the volume’s emblematic shot, an overturned car, a window punched out, hubcaps gone, seems caught midteeter in front of an abandoned ranch house. The SORRY inscribed across the doors raises questions still unanswered as the city slowly rebuilds: Who is, and for what?