Five Minutes With: Photographer Dan Burkholder

jpaprocki@islandpacket.comMay 25, 2012 

When Dan Burkholder traveled to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, he wanted to capture the city from a different angle.

At the time, plenty of photographers had documented the devastation. So he decided to try a technique called high dynamic range imaging, where multiple photos of the same scene are shot at different exposures and combined digitally to take the best aspects of each photo.

What resulted was "The Color of Loss," which was published by the University of Texas Press.

Picture This Gallery on Hilton Head Island is displaying a collection of his work through the end of June.

Burkholder, an upstate New York resident, explains how he was able to shed new light on New Orleans.

Question. Why did you decide to shoot New Orleans?

Answer. It was six years ago, a number of months after Katrina. My wife and I had talked about the need about getting down there to see how nature and government had conspired against the citizens of the city, even if we didn't do any photography.

Around the same time, I was learning about high dynamic range. A light bulb went off. I thought that this was the prefect technique to shoot interiors. There'd be dark interiors with high contrasts from the light coming in through the windows. We made three trips in 2006.

Q. How do you feel the photos came out?

A. Once in a while, subject matter and technique really work together. It's one of the few times where everything came together for me. A new technique was really needed to capture that chaos and destruction. The "Color of Loss" came out on the other end.

Q. How did you find places to shoot?

A. I was corresponding with a few photography professors at Tulane. I inquired about getting permission but was told you didn't really need permission. But we were new to this so we felt like we should. So we got permission at a few places, but sure enough they were right.

A lot of doors had been kicked open by rescue teams, so you could walk right in. Just dozens and dozens of buildings that were just open. We didn't go in if there was evidence that someone was cleaning up or if there was a "no trespassing" sign posted. The ones we did go in, we didn't move or take anything.

Q. The photos have a mysterious, surreal quality to them. Is that what you were expecting?

A. This was a real time of discovery for me. There is a certain amount of beauty in the images, despite the devastation. Some people might find them disturbing.

We're inundated by images every day. Unless you have some hook, people just move on. Fortunately, the response we get a lot is, "We didn't know it was this bad." That's what we were hoping for.

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