Daniel Kariko moved to Louisiana as a teenager, when his family sent him abroad to escape the wars then fracturing his native Yugoslavia. He formed an attachment to the mélange of cultures in his new home, and this attachment, combined with his sense of displacement, has influenced his career as artist and photographer. Kariko’s series Storm Season examines a landscape and culture being displaced by increasingly volatile tropical storms and poor land management in the Mississippi River Delta.
Kariko has been photographing the barrier islands in Louisiana’s Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary since the late 1990s. Storm Season follows changes in the landscape from 2006 to 2011, a period that encompasses the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Stretching some 140 miles between the Atchafalaya and Mississippi Rivers, the barrier islands were summer resorts for the wealthy in the 19th century and were later developed for industrial use. Today they are uninhabited sandbars, with the notable exception of Grand Isle (population 1,296). Located at the outlet of a massive and heavily engineered river system, in an industrial area dominated by offshore oil extraction and processing, at a time of increasing climate change, they are among the most unstable landforms in the world. For Kariko, the islands embody the inescapable ties between the global and the local, and between culture and environment. “Cajuns are the first true … environmental refugees in the United States,” he writes, “a culture that is under a dire threat of disappearing simply because the land they occupy is physically disappearing.”
Kariko has photographed these vanishing landforms and culture using a pinhole camera, which substitutes a tiny hole in a thin sheet of metal for a lens, giving the images an anachronistic feeling that shapes our impressions of the subjects. The pinhole camera allows for a very wide-angle field of view that captures the open expanse of land and water. It also has infinite depth of field, so that the things we see up close are rendered with the same clarity, or lack of clarity, as those on the distant horizon.