Photographs guide an Unintended Journey

February 27, 2014


The world is a delicate place. No matter how hard we try to manipulate its resources to our own advantage, there are short but potent moments that remind us of nature’s unconquerable power and might. In these times of utter destruction and despair, we become conscious of our own fleeting existence and insignificant size in this powerful planet.

“Unintended Journeys” is a photographic exhibit in the Museum of Natural History seeking to explore humanity’s fragile yet intrinsic relationship with the environment. The exhibit highlights five recent natural disasters in Bangladesh, New Orleans, Haiti, Japan, and East Africa. Through compelling photographs, the exhibit demonstrates the often awesome yet terrifying power of nature in relation to humanity’s vulnerability and ultimate dependence on its surroundings.

Building off of the concept that visual media influences how society views and reacts to global events, “Unintended Journeys” hopes to help viewers interact with photos in a more objective way, promoting persons from victims to humans in order for visitors to better understand mankind’s challenges and successes.

The exhibit begins with a disaster close to home: Hurricane Katrina. This hurricane displaced one and a half million people. Although it provides some textual information about the implications of the hurricane, the visual moments captured on film make the disaster come alive. The photo of a wooden coffin lying in the middle of a grey deserted highway instills in the viewer a sense of loneliness and helplessness. The adjacent photo of residents waiting amid debris and bleak sky on the side of the road for evacuation aid further illustrate the chaos and hopelessness that unexpected natural disasters create in communities. These photos remind us of our powerlessness to the ways of the world.

The exhibit switches its attention to the flooding in Bangladesh. The photo of five people carrying jugs above their heads while quietly wading in an endless sea of murky water extending to all corners of the frame emphasizes our smallness in this vast world.

“Unintended Journeys” goes on to explore the implications of the tsunami on Japanese society. It then travels to East Africa, looking at themes of violence and desperation in relation to desertification.

The exhibit becomes especially powerful in its representation of the earthquake in Haiti. In the shadows of dark buildings, among trash and debris, walks a couple, hand-in-hand, illuminated by a bright fire in the background. The life of the fire in contrast to the tiny couple teaches us that not only are we not invincible, but that the world and environment have a mind of their own. We cannot tame them despite how hard we try.

Although “Unintended Journeys” captures moments of destruction and agony, the exhibit ultimately instills hope.

One of the images of Haiti shows a multitude of people with their hands raised high; their faces bowed in fervent prayer. The forming of community grounded in faith shows that despite nature’s destructive power, society can overcome struggles through tenacity and togetherness.

The natural disasters caught on film illustrate the dangers of becoming too confident in our own abilities. A brief reminder of our powerlessness as people in the world just might help us change our relationship within it.


Unintended Journeys

National History Museum

Feb. 7, 2014 – Aug. 13, 2014


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