Perpetual threat

Capturing the cultural impact of South Lousiana’s hurricane season
By Susie Joseph | Art | 9 November 2016

Image from Hannah Modigh’s ‘Hurricane Season’ series

Hurricane Season, by Swedish photographer Hannah Modigh, is a new series of photographs that set out to capture the uncertainty, fear and anger lying just out of sight in South Louisiana. The beautiful images evoke the heightened awareness that comes with being in-between disasters, as the eponymous title suggests, and the effect this can have on the mental wellbeing of a community.

Modigh relates the tumultuous natural climate that inspired the series back to underlying social currents regarding race, poverty and violence in the region. For her, these issues are interlinked with the storms that arrive annually, and the perpetual threat from one or the other feeds into the fear that drives cultural aggression. Hurricane Season recognises that it is possible to evacuate from a storm, but not from the environment we are born into.


Susie Joseph: How did you initially come up with the concept behind Hurricane Season?
Hannah Modigh: 
I went to Louisiana to investigate what I would call ‘macho culture’. During my time there I had this constant feeling of a threat hanging over the people I met. I see the hurricane season as metaphor, it’s not about hurricanes, not about South Louisiana and not about poverty. It’s the fear that you cannot control, the fear of the unknown. A mental state that you found yourself in perhaps earlier in life, or perhaps will be in sometime in the future. Being between disasters. Something scary happened, and it will likely happen again. It’s quiet now, but beneath the surface lurks uncertainty, fear and anger.

SJ: The people in the images seem very comfortable with letting you capture intimate moments in their lives. Were the relationships you built with subjects sincere?
HM: They are based on a curiosity about other people and surroundings. Taking the time to listen without judging has opened many doors for me. And making myself vulnerable.

“It’s quiet now, but beneath the surface lurks uncertainty, fear and anger.”

Image from Hannah Modigh’s ‘Hurricane Season’ series

SJ: What was it about southern Louisiana that made you want to document it, as opposed to any of the other regions that are also affected by hurricanes in the states?
HM: A temptation for the specific nature drew me there, that link between man and nature is always present in my work. I was also lured by the mystique which films and books had boosted. What first caught my interest in the place was the decidedly tough macho culture. I learned that in the 26 consecutive years, until 2014, Louisiana topped murder and homicide statistics among US states. The risk of lethal violence is five times higher than in Sweden. 

SJ: There appears to be far more tension in the images from Hurricane Season than in any of your other series from the US; does this allude to a worsening situation in terms of racial relations and societal divide?
HM: During this time in Louisiana I realised that fears of hurricanes and the undertone of aggression by large parts of society come from the same source. Fear and anxiety are natural reactions to feelings of threat, but they are passive and unproductive. In a context where the weakness is undesirable, even dangerous, there is a gain in transforming fear into action and anger. This is not just specific for Louisiana. In all my work the place is not as important as the atmosphere I convey. I don’t go there to photograph them as something strange or unique, I want show how much alike we all are.

Image from Hannah Modigh’s ‘Hurricane Season’ series

SJ: Does your international outlook aid you in offering a unique perspective when it comes to considering American culture and capturing that within your images?
HM: Creativity abounds when the interest is genuine. For me, it is often to put myself in a condition where I become creative, where I do not know how I will react. Ideally, things that scare me a bit. It has been important for me to be away from home to dig deep in to an environment and myself. There is this feeling – when you are outside your comfort zone and  the roles you have – you are more naked and open to react to thing that surround you. Afterwards, I also learned that my family has a strong bound to the states. So some kind of attraction against the land over the sea might be in my genes. 

SJ: Do you find that it’s difficult to avoid revealing your own insecurities and fears as a photographer? Does Hurricane Season tie into this at all?
HM: I believe photography is very transparent. Everything is through me and about my look on things, coloured by the people I meet.

SJ: Finally, throughout much of your work, identity and place in society are frequently recurring themes. What is it about these topics that appeals to you?
HM: I don’t know why that appeals to me so much. That is one for a psychologist to find out. It interests me a great deal, how we are shaped by our heritage and our environment. By repeating certain motifs in the series I try to create a sense of emotional patterns that go into a continuous loop. I search for a silent reflection and a death awareness in everyday situations.

Image from Hannah Modigh’s ‘Hurricane Season’ series

See more of Hannah Modigh’s work at her website, here.


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