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The Power and Importance of Looking Back

Some of you may have seen earlier this week the previously-censored photos taken by Dorthea Lange, who photographed the Japanese concentration camps run by the United States during World War II.

This got me to thinking, so I started to look back on some of my past photographs. I usually go back and look at the photos I’ve taken at the end of every year, for evaluation purposes. I learn a lot, and it helps me plan what I need to work on for the next year.

It also helps me re-live my favorite moments of the year.

But seeing Lange’s photo gallery led me to step a bit further into my past — looking at a few photographs before I even thought about being a photographer.

Photos from my college’s early 2000 newspaper camera. Photos when I still edited with iPhoto.

I opened up a folder from 2005, and found the 90 or so photos I took during a service-learning trip to Mississippi, following Hurricane Katrina.

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While the brunt of this trip was to help the people who had been displaced from their homes, I was able to snap a few lasting photographs as well, documenting the somber state of the area at the time.

As I browsed through the shots I took, I decided to re-edit some of them. Being not even 2000 pixels on the long side, and only having the edited versions of the photos, I was limited in what I could do. But there were some things I definitely wanted to change in order to make a bigger impact — especially with the tools I have access to 11 years later.

Several of these photos were blurry, and taken through the glass of our vans as we toured the area.

One of the most impactful photographs I found was the one you see above, taken one block from the coast where the hurricane had literally destroyed everything in its path. There was not a single home left standing. The gate and studs were the only reminders that there used to be a home at that site.

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What I learned throughout all of this is that photographs document time, and they can withstand the test time.

But it also taught me a bit about documenting historic events. For me, photographing that gate with its missing home was super impactful. Finding collapsed garages sitting on top of crushed cars taught me the importance of capturing even the worst times in history.

For me, these photographs define the week-long trip I took, and help me remember and re-live those moments in time.

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