The “Taken by Storm” photography exhibit by Dean Kotula highlights some of the damage and losses sustained here in Maine on the Schoodic Peninsula as a result of January 2024’s back-to-back storms. 

The images on display are in response to the adage, “Not in my backyard!” 

With a house overlooking a working waterfront and vulnerable to the elements, on the night of the storm, I heard crashing waves pummeling the embankment along with a chorus of howling winds as loud and threatening as cracks of thunder. I fought against gale-force winds while jimmying open the front door that was nearly torn from its hinges.  

All signs of unprecedented havoc were present but under the cover of darkness, there was no way of knowing the totality of what was happening until the light of day—and then it came as a shock to the entire community. 

It was undeniable – catastrophic effects of climate change seen around the world had now arrived at not only our shores but in our backyards and dooryards as well: Fishing boats effortlessly torn from moorings and hurled onto granite shores like they were victims of child’s play during a tantrum, seaweed piled up in yards, torn up roadways, wharves ripped apart, piled up and floating in harbors like logjams, shacks blown and washed offshore, downed trees, along with severed powerlines and flooded basements. It was officially declared a state of emergency. 

Now, with an ear to the scientists, we’re finally asking, “Are these the kinds of threats we can now expect going forward and is it still possible to reverse global warming?”  

As a photographer working in the documentary tradition, I abide by a tacit oath to present the truth – the actual scene as witnessed (without manipulating or injecting elements that weren’t, in fact, a part of the original scene). With rare exceptions, I may change out a drab sky in favor of one that enhances the setting without affecting the overall mood. To recreate the drama on a two-dimensional plane without the ability to interject sound or tactile elements into the still image, what other tools and devices am I at liberty to employ? 

The fundamental challenge so critical to the creation of impactful images is in capturing the subject at the peak of its performance, the defining moment, to emphasize its rhythm and essence – whether it be a setting sun or, in this instance, a taut towline wrenching a boat in peril from atop a granite precipice.   

I don’t blast away with the camera, playing the odds of getting something acceptable. I stay sensitive and attuned to the environment I’m in. I wait with anticipation and then seemingly will that unmistakable moment into being. It comes as a thrill. I feel it in my spine – like sensing the vibration in a divining rod upon the discovery of water or recognizing when the hum broadcasting from a tuning fork is in alignment with an instrument. 

I want my photographs to elicit the same visceral response that inspired their creation. Timing, basic design concepts, four decades of experience, and knowledge I have of the subject all combine towards achieving this end. Unique to this portfolio is the deliberate use of a skewed horizon line to indicate an off-kilter environment and to create a dizzying sense of disorientation. 

My work is my passion and no matter what neutrality I endeavor to bring to a shoot, my heart and soul will also find expression and leave their imprint. Without interpretive emotion, photographs are merely stagnant, lifeless, and mute images resting on a two-dimensional plane. 

This Taken By Storm project was a privilege in the making. It was a whirlwind effort, shot in haste over the course of three days. While I was given scant, yet significant advice regarding coverage, I was primarily led by instinct. My inspiration came from knowing that members of my community would be profoundly affected by the consequences the storm left behind.  

I was pleased with how receptive people were in allowing me to photograph them, particularly during stressful and challenging events. I was also encouraged by and extremely impressed with the level of support, concern, and camaraderie I witnessed between community members throughout this project and amazed at how little hesitation (maybe a sigh’s worth) there was before they turned the corner to make things right again. 

 

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