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Kael Alford b. 1970, Middletown, NY is a photographer, writer and educator whose work spans issues of political violence, the human relationship to the natural environment, and the tenuous personal relationship to others.
She began her career as a photojournalist covering violent conflicts in the Balkans from 1996-2002 while living in Bulgaria, Kosovo and Serbia. She spent many months in Iraq during and after the U.S. invasion in 2003-2004 and returned in 2011, photographing the daily lives of civilians altered by the war. For seven years she photographed two small communities impacted by coastal erosion global warming and the BP oil spill in Louisiana – an estranged family album of her maternal grandmother’s relations. She is currently making a series of portraits about manifestations of motherhood in different social and cultural contexts where she lives and works. Increasingly she uses the camera as a tool to define and challenge notions of her own location, connection and disconnection in the communities, temporary and permanent, where she lives.
Alford has published two photography books: “Bottom of da Boot: Louisiana’s Disappearing Coast” (Fall Line Press, 2012) about the communities of Isle de Jean Charles and Pointe-aux-Chien, Louisiana and “Unembedded: Four Independent Journalists on the War in Iraq (Chelsea Green, 2005), which she co-authored, a record of the immediate impacts of the U.S. – led invasion of Iraq on Iraqi civilians.
Her photographs have been exhibited in museums and galleries in the U.S. and Europe including the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, and the De Young Museum in San Francisco. She continues to work for newspapers and magazines, teaches photography part time at Southern Methodist University and at the annual Foundry Photojournalism Workshop. She lives in Dallas, Texas.
These portraits, tableaux and landscapes from the communities of Pointe-aux-Chenes and Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana comprise an estranged family album. My maternal grandmother traces her heritage to the earliest documented Native American setters of these communities and my childhood conception of family and country were informed by her stories. But I am drawn to these communities for reasons beyond my personal curiosity; Isle Jean Charles and Pointe-aux-Chenes are on the front lines of rapid coastal land-loss that threatens the cultures and environment across southeast Louisiana. In the coming decades, these two rare American communities, home to more than 1500 people from a mixture of Native American bands and American settlers, will likely become uninhabitable. If nothing changes, other towns along the southeast Louisiana coast and further inland will follow.
The coast of Louisiana is losing land the size of an American football field every 30 minutes due to erosion caused by the long-term impact of oil and gas exploration and the levees built to control the flooding of the Mississippi. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, Coastal Louisiana has lost a wetland area the size of Delaware equaling 1,833 miles over the past 78 years. If this trend were to continue, Louisiana would lose a wetland area larger than the Island of Manhattan every year. Such concerns reach far beyond the borders of Louisiana and speak to our national commitment to human and natural environments and the challenges we face under growing pressure from energy needs and interests.
A new 50-year, multi billion dollar plan for Louisiana’s coastal restoration was made public by state officials earlier this year, but based on preliminary outlines, many remote communities in coastal parishes may not see much improvement. For example, an ongoing levee construction project near Pointe-Aux-Chenes, known as the “Morganza to the Gulf” bypasses Isle de Jean Charles because it was deemed too expensive and to protect it. Public hearings in coastal communities about to the 50-year plan drew worried residents into the debate, but awareness of coastal Louisiana’s plight and how it relates to our concerns as a nation are not well publicized.
image credit: Kael Alford, Juliette Brunet on the levee. Isle de Jean Charles. September 2008, Archival Pigment Print, 2008