As all New Yorkers, New Jerseyans (and most Americans) will remember, the days that immediately followed Hurricane Sandy last fall were largely spent trying to find out what was going on. With power losses, wreckage and flooding, people had to struggle to communicate with each other—how to phone someone to ask to charge your dead phone?—and news organizations had to exercise on-the-fly ingenuity.
Citizens and reporters alike were able to steadily pump bits of news out through Twitter. But one of the most comprehensive views on the storm and its aftermath was via Instagram. And it wasn’t just because the New York and New Jersey-dwelling portion of Instagram’s 90 million users were all posting pictures of eerily dead streets and a blacked-out skyline—it was because professional photographers ditched their gear for a week and captured the entire mess with their iPhones.
"The iPhone became a really powerful tool in the moment because we could upload the photos as we were taking them and report on the storm at that moment, instead of at the end of the day or the next day," says Wyatt Gallery, who was among that group of photographers. Gallery, a New York-based photojournalist whose body of work includes a series on life in Haiti post-earthquake, is now assembling a collection of Hurricane Sandy iPhone images in a book. There’s an Indiegogo campaign to publish #Sandy, which features the work of 20 professional photographers who captured images of their post-storm hometowns.
It’s quickly apparent how artfully shot the images are—even though they’re sourced from Instagram and Hipstamatic. "Most people look at the photos and say, ‘I can’t believe this is from an iPhone,’ because these images take it to the next level," Gallery tells Co.Design.
As it turns out, shooting with an iPhone may actually have been the all-access pass the photographers needed to truly capture the raw emotion of the storm. A phone—versus a heavy camera, lenses, and tripod—enables nimble and reflexive photo-taking. Also by now we’re all accustomed enough to phones that they’re far less apt to cause offense (or posing).
"I’d watch as they do portraits. People are more open and more relaxed with the photographers because they don’t have a big camera in their face," Gallery says. "They’re talking to the person about their experience and getting to know them, but at the same time taking photographs of them. It’s effortless and blends into the conversation."
The first published run of the books will cost $50, and 100% of royalties will go to Occupy Sandy and the Sandy Storyline project. Check out the #Sandy campaign here.