Melissa Ziobro: This is Melissa Ziobro, Specialist Professor of Public History at
Monmouth University in West Long Branch, New Jersey interviewing Kevin
Burkitt for the Monmouth County Historical Association. Today is July 6th and
we are at Monmouth University in West Long Branch. Kevin, thanks again for
being here today. Were you born in Monmouth County?
Kevin Burkitt: I was born in Point Pleasant, so, actually, Ocean County, when they had a hospital on the corner of the start of the Atlantic [Intercoastal] Waterway in Point Pleasant.
I was born right there.
Melissa: Okay. What year were you born?
Melissa: Okay. Did you grow up there in Point Pleasant?
Kevin: No. I grew up in Manasquan. Actually, Wall Township, but the Manasquan area Wall Township resident but we had a Manasquan zip code.
Melissa: Okay. How would you describe your childhood growing up there?
Kevin: It was like every other kid's childhood. It was different in the 70s and 80s. You
didn't have the internet. Had a phone that had a cord on it. Pay for long distance
telephone calls. It was great. It wasn't like today.
Melissa: A few other questions just to set the stage before we start specifically talking
about the storm. Prior to Sandy, what stands out in your mind as the worst storm
in your recollection or maybe there are none?
Kevin: I think Irene was the one that I can remember the most. That was right before it.
The little bit of damage that it did to the Jersey shore, that was kind of like my
wake-up call that maybe something's going to happen eventually and that's when I
became more interested in taking pictures of things that were damaged or
destroyed by nature.
Melissa: Interesting, so Sandy is not the first storm that you [crosstalk 00:01:39]-
Kevin: No, Sandy's not the first storm. I actually photographed after Irene. I just didn't
have enough to work with. It just wasn't the amount of damage done by Irene.
That really went more east and north and really flooded New England and not so
much in our area.
Melissa: What do you recall about the days leading up to Sandy? Were you following the forecasts at all?
Kevin: I don't really watch much television or follow the news, so my soon to be wife
and I ... We got married the year after Sandy, so we were engaged. We were
traveling. We went to Philadelphia the night before the storm. We went to go see
Citizen Cope at The Electric Factory, and he played for like three and a half hours
because he knew he wasn't playing the next night in New York. We got home at
four in the morning and we just lived in a very small house and said to each other,
"What are we going to do?" That was kind of it. We didn't really have a plan, and
then when it got bad, I asked my wife to go to her mom's house and I would stay
at my house to be close to my family and she could be close to her family, so we
kind of split out.
Melissa: Where were you living at the time?
Kevin: At the time, I was living on Lakewood Road in Wall Township over by the shopright on 34 South, in a very small house...
Melissa: Okay, so your parents were next door.
Kevin: Yeah. My parents owned two pieces of property on Lakewood Road. They were
family properties, so they had like a small bungalow that I lived in and then my
wife lived with me and we were next to them.
Melissa: Okay and where was her family? Where'd she head?
Kevin: She went to the Eatontown/Tinton Falls area to go be with her mom.
Melissa: Okay. How far were you on Lakewood Road from the nearest waterway?
Kevin: We're about maybe a mile from the water but we're above sea level, so we were
fine; however, the road does slope down and flood the cul de sac or the area by
my parent's house. There was some flooding concerns but the ground percolation
wasn't too horrible and it didn't seem there was a lot of water to deal with. It was
more just how much rain you're going to get per hour I guess.
Melissa: You weren't in an evacuation zone or anything like that?
Kevin: No, we weren't. No one had to come helicopter me out of my house. [Laughter.]
Melissa: What do you recall? Did the storm seem special, if you will, as it was unfolding?
Kevin: What I recall about the storm is just the magnitude of it. It came in at night and it
came in at a high tide. It was lunar tide and it was just people by the beach were
more effected than I was being two, maybe three miles inland. The silence was
interesting. We watched television, then we turned off the T.V. and we just
listened for hours. I was by myself and it was me and my cat. I literally just
listened to the sounds of what was going on around me and the trees as they fell.
It was kind of creepy. It was comforting to know I was next to my parents to
make sure they were okay, even though they really didn't need my help and I
didn't really need their help. It was just good to be home.
Melissa: Did you lose power?
Kevin: For 14 days.
Melissa: For 14 days. Tell me about that experience.
Kevin: It wasn't so bad at first. Being without power wasn't something that was horrible. I
had a gas stove, so I was able to cook. The problem was the evenings, especially
when it snowed like four or five days after and it got cold. I used to make
homemade beer, so I had these big five gallon carboys for glass, and I couldn't
heat my house enough, but it wasn't cold enough to freeze. It was uncomfortable.
What I would do is I would boil five gallons of water in a big stock pot and then I
would put that hot water into a glass carboy, and I would repeat the process four
or five times and put them all throughout my house and let the glass radiate heat. I
would put my sweatshirt on the carboy to heat my sweatshirt and then my pants to
heat my pants and every couple hours switch out pants, switch out sweatshirts and
whatever to stay warm.
It was kind of like a step and repeat process for about seven days. The days were
spent making sure my wife was okay and making sure my mom and my dad were
okay and everyone was okay. It was just foraging for stuff. Just driving around
seeing who had gas and who didn't have gas. Trying to figure out what we had as
far as food reserves goes because I wasn't prepared for the storm and I think I had
maybe a loaf of bread and some peanut butter and jelly. Bartering became very
quick and very important.
Melissa: Tell me about that. With whom would you barter?
Kevin: There were people at the shop that needed things and since I was able to make hot
water I could make coffee. I had hot coffee and someone had something that I
wanted, I'd give them the cup of coffee and they would give me a dollar or I
would trade a hot coffee for like granola bar or something. Just community stuff. I
didn't rip anybody off. I wasn't trying to. I just wanted to help out what I could.
Melissa: That's very interesting. You mentioned briefly gas shortages. What do you recall about that?
Kevin: I was really paranoid about running out of gas, which was ridiculous. I mean
there's no reason to. I had my family, except my wife was with her family. It was
just one of those things I'd never experienced before. The thought of going to a
gas station and seeing a line or seeing people wait for two hours to get a small
tank of gas put into their car. We didn't have a generator, so we weren't gas
dependent, so that was a good thing. I just remember driving and seeing line after
line after line after line of people just waiting in line for gas. That's one thing I'll
never forget, just the number of people waiting just to get two and a half, maybe
three gallons of gas in a red container. I remember that. I can still see that.
Melissa: Did you sustain any damage to either of your properties?
Kevin: We just had some limbs down. A tree fell across the street about 50 feet from
where I lived, blocking the road, the main road to get through to Manasquan Park
and to 34. That was cleaned up pretty quick after the services came back online. I
think the tree was down for like six days. We could walk to Shop Rite. We could
just get out there. I road my bike everywhere. I stole a shopping cart, filled it up
with food and pushed it home. That lived in my house for a better part of a year
and a half. I just didn't return it and then one day I just pushed it back there.
Melissa: I wish you still had it [laughter]. That could have been an artifact for our exhibit.
Kevin: I did keep some things, some things that fell out of the trees and things.
Melissa: They say that situations like this can bring out both the best, and conversely, the
worst in people. Can you give us some examples of instances where you saw the
best or the worst in people?
Kevin: I don't want to really think about good or bad in this situation. I think everyone
was dealing with just a huge storm. They didn't know how to deal with it. People
were angry, they were upset, they were scared. There was a lot of emotion. I
didn't see anyone get shot and I didn't see anyone die. I don't know anything bad
that came of it. People probably had a bad experience because they were dealing
with a traumatic situation that unfortunately happened to a lot of people at one
time. I didn't witness anything good or bad other than people being a little testy
with each other, which is fine.
Melissa: Where were you working at the time?
Kevin: I've been at Brookdale Community College for 13 years. I was working there.
Melissa: You were still there. What do you recall about the impact to Brookdale?
Kevin: I instruct a digital media class and we had a tough year the previous year for other
reasons with the snow. When the fall term came around, it literally wiped out ...
Like eight kids in my class had no home. They were displaced. The school didn't
have a plan. The instructors didn't have a plan. No one had a plan. I said all right.
I had everyone's phone number, so I called them up and I said I'm holding class
on my own on Saturday. If you can make it, great. If you can't, don't worry about
it. I'm not taking attendance.
Melissa: As far as you know, was anyone's graduation date or anything impacted or did
Brookdale try to accommodate...?
Kevin: I don't know if individual students were effected. I'm sure they were. I'm sure
some students had to drop out because they lost everything or lost some things. I
did my part by doing above and beyond on Saturdays for several weeks just to
give a sense of normalcy to the students by making that available. I would bring
in doughnuts and coffee. I would bring in a case of water. I would have snacks. I
would say this is not going home with me, so if you want to take it...
Melissa: Good. That's promising. Did you have any direct experience with emergency services personnel?
Kevin: Just the guys that cut the tree down and cleared up the roadway. That was it. I
didn't meet any first responders. I didn't meet any firemen, any police.
Melissa: Okay. Did you have any reason to come into contact with insurance companies?
Kevin: I didn't own a home then. I was a renter. I really had no property to really worryabout. My stake in the game was very low at that time.
Melissa: Okay. Let's get to the fun part then. You've got this photography project- 91 Days,Countless Nights is the title, correct?
Kevin: Yeah, it's what I've been working with. That's the working title.
Melissa: Okay, so tell us about it.
Kevin: A large part of what I do outside of work is I play with experimental photography.
I bought a really good camera and a bunch of really good lenses when I made my
transformation from film to digital. When I knew that we were going to get hit
with Sandy, I knew I was going to do a restoration project. I just knew that I was
going to be doing something for a long time. The beach restrictions weren't lifted
for like six weeks and I was just chomping at the bit to get past [inaudible
00:13:49] without having to show ID. I came up with this concept of and really
the backbone of the project is all we see is destruction during the day. All we see
are these houses that are just destroyed, these lives that are torn up, these people that lost everything or lost something. It's just stuff but it's stuff that has meaning
and stuff that has stories.
What I decided to do was do the opposite. I decided to show their story at night
when they were sleeping. I would put on a pair of jeans and a dark sweatshirt and
an infrared headlight and I would park my car and I would just walk in with no
one knowing I was there. I would just sit and wait and wait and wait for the
clouds to move or something to be kind of eerie and spectacular. I would take a
seven minute long picture or a 10 minute long picture or like a 15 minute long
picture depending on how much light there was. I captured these raw images that
were creepy in color. They were just very surreal. As I was doing the project, I'm
like this is not a color project. It's not a color project.
I think I started in week six after the storm and I had no pattern. I had no agenda. I
had nothing. I just would literally get out of work, start driving around and find a
house that looked like it was damaged by the storm and just mark it in my GPS or
mark it down somewhere and then I would drive there that night, set up on the
tripod and then frame the picture in the dark, which I had no idea what I was
getting and just take a super long exposure. I worked for two years on this project.
For the first six months, it was four nights a week from ten at night until at least
two or four in the morning. After six months, it got down to about two nights a
week. After a year, it got down to about one night a week, and then after a year
and a half, it was like one night a month. At that point, I couldn't tell what was
new construction and what was Sandy's destruction. I didn't want to put it all back
together. I wanted it to be beautifully destroyed. That's what I wanted to show.
I would do all this work and I would capture all these images. I would
immediately come home and I would exhaust myself my editing them in
Lightroom, which is an Adobe product. It was like I knew I had stuff but I didn't
know what I had because it was so raw and so emotional. It was really hard to
look at. I started showing people and they were getting mad at me. They were like
why are you doing this? Why are you taking pictures of someone else's
destruction? I'm like because I'm documenting the storm. I'm documenting the
recovery. I'm documenting how long it's going to take for that house to look
beautiful again. That's what I decided to do. I did that for two years. Literally, the
same lens didn't leave my camera. I would drive to Union Beach. I would drive to
[inaudible 00:17:14] and Seaside, Manasquan, Belmar.
I only got one shot in [inaudible 00:17:18], one shot in [inaudible 00:17:21],
nothing in Spring Lake but I concentrated myself in like the Manasquan area
because there was just so much destruction. Then I would go down to like Bay
Head and [inaudible 00:17:30] and just work that area. The only rule about this
project was if I saw the picture on the news or if knew that someone else was
taking it, I wasn't taking the same picture. I was doing all different stuff. I was
doing it all at night when people were sleeping and they didn't know I was there...
Melissa: Let me ask you a few follow-up questions. I'm going to ask you to define a few
terms, what they mean for you. You said experimental photography. What does
that mean for you?
Kevin: I was trying to see how long I could leave my shutter open in the middle of the
night to produce an image. I wanted to see what this camera could do. Could I
literally do a 15 minute long picture in the middle of the night and what would my
Melissa: Okay. For those who are unfamiliar with photography, for those who take photos using their iPhones, why long exposure? What's the difference?
Kevin: I dabble in time. I spend a lot of time with photography exploring the use of time.
I do that today. There's three parts to photography. There's ISO, which is
sensitivity to light. There's aperture, which is the diaphragm inside the lens that
opens and closes, which lets the light through and there's time value, how long the
shutter, which actually opens up and lets light come across the VME sensor and
what it can do. If you understand how to work ISO, aperture and shutter, you can
take a picture of anything in any situation. When you have no boundaries and you
have no correlation between what you see and what you get and use blind faith
that you're going to get something in seven minutes from now, it's pretty
challenging position to be in, especially when it's four degrees in the middle of
Every seven minute picture also renders for seven minutes, so it's really 14
minutes. If it's four degrees outside, you're very cold and that's what I did. I didn't
shoot at all during the summer, from Memorial to Labor Day. I didn't shoot when
there were people around but as soon as the beach became mine again, I would
start this project up and start redoing it and keep going and going and going and
Melissa: Why not from Memorial Day to Labor Day? Even at night, was it hard to find a time when people weren't around?
Kevin: There's just too many people and I didn't want to deal with the intoxicated person
coming up to me and saying what are you doing? Why are you here? I just didn't
want to deal with that madness.
Melissa: Okay. I'm going to ask you to define another term you used, restoration project.
What does that mean to you?
Kevin: I think if you look at the photos or I think if these photos were put on display
somewhere, you're seeing someone's worst possible moment in their life. You're
seeing their entire, either savings account, maybe a family home, maybe their
dream is dashed. I have that moment stored in my memory, on my hard drives and
on print. From that point forward, they're working to restore, not just the structure, but they're working to restore the memory and they're working to restore their
families. That's the restoration of this. That's how I look at this. I've caught them
at their worst possible moment without fear of repercussion and said this is
exactly where you stood at this day, this time, this place and it's haunting what
you have to deal with but I have that and I'm keeping that.
Melissa: Have you tried or will you try to reach out to any of these property owners?
Kevin: Because I don't even know the addresses that I shot the pictures at.
Melissa: Okay. This was a question I was going to ask next. If there's a catalog that explains-
Kevin: No. There's no rhyme or reason.
Kevin: There's no rhyme or reason. The only person or family that I actually would try to
reach out to was somewhere where I left a piece of gear and I came back the next
night and they saved it for me, so I took it back. I was almost tempted to give
them a copy of the photograph but I felt like if I did that, the whole project would
Melissa: Okay. If eventually anyone protested to their home being shown, and they may
have no legal standpoint, but from an ethical perspective, would that concern you?
Would you consider removing their photo?
Kevin: No. I stood in the street. I was out there between 10:00pm and 4:00 in the
evening. Your house is part of a historical event. Unfortunately, you might not
like it, I might not like it but I'm going to take a picture of it. I did have police
confront me in Bay Head and [inaudible 00:22:27] expressing that I couldn't be on
the sidewalk but I could be in the street. I'm like, all right. I moved three feet and
took the same picture... The way that I did go about that was if I knew I was
going into a hotbed, like Bay Head for example, they were just so afraid of looters
and so afraid of having everything stolen. I wasn't there to do any of that.
I would call up the police station and say here's my car, here my license plate. I'm
going to come by tonight sometime between 9:30 and 10:00. I'm going to give
you my ID. I'm going to identify myself and I'm going to tell you I'm going to be
walking in. I'm going to be there for four to five hours and I'm going to be
walking out. If someone calls saying they see guy dressed in blue jeans and a
black hoodie or black overcoat or whatever, it's just me. I'm taking pictures. If you get a lot of calls, here's my cell phone number. Call me and I'll leave. No one ever
complained. No one ever called and no one ever the police
on me. I did have the courtesy to the police to say that I'm doing this so that they
knew there was something going on.
Melissa: Another term I'll ask you to identify, because again, theoretically people could be
listening to this interview 20-30 years from now- explain your understanding of
the beach restrictions as they existed in the aftermath of Sandy.
Kevin: I couldn't get east of the railroad tracks in Manasquan or Brielle. I don't know of any restrictions anywhere but I do know that Manasquan was not letting non-
residents east of the railroad tracks for at least six to eight weeks. I was itching to get down to the beach just to see the damage. I understood the restrictions but
when those restrictions were lifted, or when I found a loophole to get past those
restrictions when they weren't looking, I was going. I just went. I decided it was
what I was going to do. I didn't have a problem parking a half mile away and
hiking in or putting my car into a public place and then just throwing my
backpack on and just gearing up for the night.
Melissa: How many photos are in your project?
Kevin: There are 114 that are developed and there are 35 that are still waiting to be developed. I don't think I'm going to do them.
Kevin: I just don't want to.
Kevin: The project has kind of run its course and I'm also having some conversion issues
with those 35 images where they're not DNG, digital negatives, and they're not
uncompressed files. For me to edit them, it wouldn't be my standard, so I'm just
probably not going to do them. I have I think 114 total in the collection.
Melissa: Interesting. Have you done anything of this magnitude before?
Kevin: A project this size? No.
Melissa: Have the photos been shown anywhere before?
Kevin: I had the photos picked up from Morris Arts, part of the Geraldine R. Dodge
Foundation. In 2015, I was part of a show for six months that was called
Hurricane Sandy Destruction to Construction. They contacted me and I produced
ten 12X18 metallic prints that were framed and matted and then one poster size
that was framed and matted that was on display from September 11th until
February 16th of 2016 in their gallery. It was cool because people who on the
other side created things from the storm ... [inaudible 00:26:10]. Another woman
was there and created things from the storm. I was the destruction part and then
they were the creation part. That was pretty cool but it was so expensive. For me
to produce 11 pieces it was like $2,000. I started a Kickstarter campaign and I met
my goal in 48 hours through Kickstarter and then I exceeded my goal by 38%,
which paid for everything. The whole project cost me $13. I have 12 museum
quality pieces of my work in my house in my living room.
Melissa: I believe you mentioned initially you started photographing in color but there was something off about that to you. Can you explain that for me?
Kevin: Yeah. Well, the camera shoots in color. The camera shoots in color. I was
shooting on Nikon D3S with a 20 millimeter 2.8 lens. It was very wide angled,
small kit that I was using. The pictures come back in color and then I would bring
them into Adobe Lightroom. Adobe Lightroom is basically the raw converter for
Photoshop. I would convert them to color corrected images in color and then I
would strip the saturation and then bring them into an application called Silver
EFex Pro 2. I would do all my black and white editing on the file and then bring it
back to Lightroom and do all my cleanup in Lightroom and then export out. An
average photo, if you talk about from creation to finish was probably about six to
eight hours worth of work per photo if you really think about it. I had one photo
that I spent over 30 hours working on in the course of the photo in its history.
Every time I look at it, I gotta fix something and do this, do that. I didn't want to
get that meticulous with it but for that one I had to.
Melissa: This is a tremendous amount of work obviously. What is your hope for the
project? Do you see a book in the works? An exhibit? You're very generous in
sharing some of the images with us, but ultimately, what would you love to see
come out of this?
Kevin: I think that now that we're at the five year mark, I would hope that we can talk
about this in 10 years and the images still hold as much power in five years from
now as they do at the five year mark...
I say that now but I also have my own show coming up at the Brookdale CVA
gallery in October where Marie Maber and Dinneen Jackson are hopefully getting
a grant for me and I'm going to do a very low cost show where I'm going to print
61 pictures from the collected. I'm going to mount them on foam core and we're
going to sell them to raise money for the arts at Brookdale. I get half, they get
half. If I can get a new lens out of the deal, then whatever I make after that I'm
just going to give back to them. That's kind of how I'm looking at it.
Melissa: I have to ask because you said no one sees them all, no one especially sees the
color photos. Have your family or your wife seen them all? Seen the color
Melissa: They haven't either.
Kevin: My wife doesn't understand it. She doesn't understand why I do what I do with
photography. It's not a sticking point. It's a creative point. My parents don't
understand photography at all. They don't understand my passion for it. I think the
only person I would actually give the whole collection to to see would be my
friend Chris in South Carolina because I know he would curate it for a long time.
He would be a responsible person that I could trust with it. [REDACTED]
Melissa: Question about your process. Do you show the progression of any properties or is
it more scatter shot where you would show a particular property completely
destroyed and then it being rebuilt?
Kevin: There's one property that I kept going back to for some reason. It's on the corner
of Inlet Drive down by Manasquan. It's like the last property on the corner by the
little park area. It was like two houses that were all set. All of a sudden, they
knocked one down and then they build this other big house. I went there like six
times. I have pictures in progression of that. That spot just drew me. I would just
go there all the time and just see things. I think that's one of my favorite photos is
that house. I call that The Boo House because they had all their Halloween
decorations in the window and it said boo on the big front door. That just kind of
became the name of the photo as Boo.
Melissa: Any idea why that property spoke to you?
Kevin: It was just two small houses that were just like wiped out. They were standing but
they were wiped out. Just the offset with one behind the other and then the chain
link fence that was around them and then one was abandoned and one was
knocked down and the concrete beam fell. That and it was easy to get to. I could
check it out. During the day I could just drive down there and see the progress.
You have to remember, as the project got longer and longer and longer, I was
looking for distance between events. I didn't really want to keep going back up to
Union Beach or other places where I wasn't familiar, so I stayed in Manasquan,
Belmar, Spring Lake, Sea Girt and those areas. I focused mainly on things that
were comfortable to me and that's kind of where I hung out.
Melissa: Do you remember the date of the last photo taken?
Kevin: I haven’t taken a Sandy picture since the middle of February 2015. I haven’t taken any Sandy pictures since that time.
Melissa: Are you on to a new project?
Kevin: I am. I bought a whole bunch of filters so I can do all of this stuff during the day.
It's crazy. I sold my D3S that I did this project on. Had the chance to travel last
year to visit my brother in Hawaii, so I sold all my camera gear and bought a
mirrorless camera. It's like a third of the size, six times the resolution, light, easy,
great. I've invested now in neutral density filters, graduated filters, mist filters,
polarizers. I spend most of my time now shooting sunrises and sunsets and
shooting things that are more pleasing, easy to shoot; but I'm still fascinated by
motion and, like, putting things in the moving aspect, especially trains and cars.
It's just fun to shoot. When you can slow light down or you can get an eight
second exposure during the course of the day, you can make things happen really,
really cool in a picture and I don't have to stay up until like midnight to do it.
Melissa: What do you want these photos to make people feel?
Kevin: I want to make them feel vulnerable. I want them to look at them and realize this
is a really bad thing that happened. I'm not going to lie about it. They're so
powerful that when you look at the photos themselves, you can't not feel raw
emotion. I've been turned down by four galleries and I've been turned down by
people even looking at my book because they look at the first image and say I
can't do this. I can't look at these because it just causes too much emotion. That's
exactly what I set forth to do. That's exactly the reaction that I wanted. That's
exactly what this project is all about. This is really about making people go to a
place that's uncomfortable and starting over from that point forward.
Melissa: Was the Jersey shore unprepared for Sandy, and if so, who is to blame?
Kevin: That's a political question. I don't get involved in that. I mean I think we did the
best we could. [inaudible 00:35:18] I don't think any coastline area is prepare for a
major hurricane. This is just an eye opener because if it does happen again, it
might be bigger and then I'll be doing the same thing again.
Melissa: What do you think the long-term impact of this storm will be for the people of Monmouth County?
Kevin: I think it's tough because it forced a lot of people who are my age to move either
to Ocean County or to other places. The loss of jobs is tough, especially good
paying jobs. Monmouth County has a problem as it is retaining people who are
between 20 and 40 years old who don't work in the city. When you're relying on
working at a beach club or relying on a resort and relying on a restaurant to make
your living and you lose that because of a storm, it forces you to do one of two
things; either relocate or find something else to do. I'm sure there's people that are
still hurt by the loss of their business and there's people that are thankful because
it forced them to get a different type of education, which gave them the
opportunity to do something differen
The storm forced you to do one of two things; either be sorry about yourself or
move on. There's no way around it with this one. That's the hard part about it.
Melissa: Did your experience taking these photographs cause you to reprioritize things inyour life at all?
Kevin: Yes, it did. I think after I got the first picture home and edited it and realized what
I was onto, it made me realize that things just aren't important. Not like life isn't
important but like material things. I'm taking pictures of people's stuff and now
they don't have that stuff. I think what this project did for me is it made me realize
it's just stuff. That's all it is. You can always replace stuff but you can't replace
people and you can't replace experiences. I think the goal, like I said, was to make
people feel uncomfortable. That is my goal with this project.
The other goal is to make them realize that it's okay to lose things because in loss
there's beauty. There really is. There was just so much to picture and so much to
take and so much to think about that it was just an obsession for me for two years.
Melissa: You've mentioned several times now that the photos likely will and should make
people feel uncomfortable. Do you want them to feel uncomfortable towards a particular end, that they are motivated to do something? Or is this simple-
Kevin: I just think that unfortunately this project is a very uncomfortable project. It wasn't for me because I was numb to it as I was doing it, but as I amassed the 114
pictures, and I have this collection of people that I don't even know who went
through probably the worst month of their life. I'm not trying to make someone be
mad at me or be mad at the situation but I think ultimately what I'm trying to
accomplish with this project is we were put in a situation that we may or may not
have been prepared for and we had to deal with it together and this is the
aftermath. I was just [inaudible 00:39:01] off to catalog the aftermath. That's the
way I look at it.
Melissa: All of your photos, I believe, are missing human subjects. Correct?
Kevin: No people.
Melissa: Did you ever consider photographing people? Aid workers, individuals assessing their storm damage, anything like that? Never crossed your mind?
Kevin: It was never part of the scope. When you take a seven minute long picture, you
don't see people anyway. I was there trying to get the environmental feel. The
earth is still moving. The stars are [inaudible 00:39:34] from the sky. Lights are being seen in the distance. Cars moving. I had no real photographic agenda other
than to go out and set my camera in a tripod and take a seven minute long picture
and then make it into something that I saw in Lightroom. I guess if there were
rules, there were no people and if I did see a person, I hid. If someone was
walking their dog or whatever, I would just stop what I was doing and some
people asked me, "What are you doing? What's going on?" I kept an iPad with me
that had the majority of the pictures on them, so if someone approached me I
could be like I'm taking a picture. Here's what it's going to look like, so they can
get an idea of what I'm doing but I never really reached out to any one person and
said do you want a copy or anything like that.
Melissa: Okay. You mentioned “the boo house” earlier. Do you have any other favorite
photos that stand out in your mind?
Kevin: The two most recognizable photos are the garage picture on First Avenue in
Manasquan. The garage had just blown out and you can just see the amount of
sand coming through the side and the bottom. Everyone's got a picture of Asbury
Park, so I grabbed the picture of the casino and it was just beat up. Kind of like
the electric tower casino thing. Those are the two signature big pieces that people
can understand from the storm. When you dive deeper into the catalog and you
start going through it, people don't usually get past those two pictures without
saying that's good enough. They don't want to get into it. They don't want to look.
They just want to be like okay, whatever.
That's why I would wait so long because I could just show up. I could walk in or I
could hike in or do whatever and I could; take my picture and I could leave or I
could follow on my iPhone the weather forecast for the evening and try to figure
out what the clouds are going to do and just wait and see what clouds would kind
of develop and then get a moving sky or get some cool things happening in the
scene, which makes it feel completely different than if it was just a picture taken
during the day.
Melissa: Again, it's obvious just a tremendous amount of work went into this. Do you call
it Hurricane Sandy or Superstorm Sandy? Does the terminology matter to you?
Kevin: It doesn't matter to me. I call it Hurricane Sandy. If there's two camps, I'm not in either camp.
Melissa: Interesting. Is there anything we have not covered that you would like to add?
Kevin: No. I mean I think being willing to put myself out there to do this project is
important. There's not a lot of ... There's a lot of people today who call themselves
photographers, who have cameras, who take great photos and they're good at their
craft but very few people do the same thing for two years and only that thing for
two years and stay consistently good at it. If you look at my catalog of photos or if
you look through the files that I gave you, you'll see that every photo is consistent
and every photo looks, not in a bad way, but technically the photos are solid. I
think that's what I'm most proud about this project is I was able to find a way to
work for a little under two years on a project and produce something where every
photo is pretty much the same in spectrum and value and also unique in that it
catalogs the disruption in an artful way that's creepy and haunting yet shows that
we have so much promise to make things better. That's kind of how I look at this
Melissa: That's almost a hopeful ending there.
Kevin: It is. It is a hopeful ending because everyone lost a lot of ... not everyone but a lot
of people lost a lot of things. Some people lost second houses. Some people lost
secondary residences. Some people lost their primary residences. I don't know any
of their stories. I don't know anything about any of the people that I took a picture
of their house. I literally would just find it, drive past it, and mark it on my GPS
and then come back to it seven hours later in the middle of the night. I don't know
what the story was and I don't want to know what the story was. I just want to
have this catalog of really eerie photos that show destruction at night and I don't
know. I think I did that really well.
Melissa: Have you seen any comparable projects? Anything similar?
Kevin: No. There were so many photographers were taking pictures of the same places
like the roller coaster in Seaside Heights, the half house up in Union Beach. The
ones that made the cover of time, the ones that made the cover of Discovery or
whatever, the marque shots of the storm. Like I said earlier, my goal was not to
shoot the same thing. My goal was to go in guerilla style and set myself up and
take the pictures slowly, meticulously and with purpose. That's what this project
was for me for two years.
Melissa: While we're mentioning this theme of hope, in the aftermath of the storm, “restore
the shore” merchandise is everywhere and people are giving to aid organizations
and volunteering. As we approach the fifth anniversary, do you think the memory
of the impact of the storm is fading?
Kevin: I think people are living different lives now. I think people are more prepared.
There were houses that I saw lifted in the past two years. I think the services are
different now. There's an expectation about the way that we live that we have to
prepare ourselves for potentially high water. I don't think they want to go back to
that place but I don't think we're ready to go back there either. I think if it happens
again, we're going to be in a literally different situation but with the same results.
Like I said in a previous ... Previously someone asked me a question when I was
doing something for Princeton Television. He said what would you have done
differently? I said I would have been shooting this from day one.
I would have used my press pass because I had a press pass at the time. I would
have used my press pass to get onto the beach and do this the first night it
happened but I just couldn't do it. Out of good faith to my employer, I couldn't use
his press pass for my own benefit. I didn't, so I waited until everyone else and
then started my project.
Melissa: How many days or weeks went by before you started?
Kevin: About six to eight weeks. The name of the project I got from ... News 12 was
doing a day count from when Governor Christie actually did anything to help
people at the beach. It was like 91 days. That just became the name. It was like 91
days since Christie did anything to help anyone at the beach. That's kind of how
the name stuck. It was like randomly on News 12.
Melissa: I'll ask one more time. Is there anything we've not covered that you'd like to add
Kevin: I don't think so. I think the only thing ... I don't want people to think that I'm some kind of jerk and that's important. Some guy who had this grand idea of
photographing everyone's destruction and making misery. That's not what I'm
about. I saw an opportunity to document history. That's what this project is. It's
just I chose to do it when people were sleeping. I chose to do it when no one knew
I was around and I chose to do it in my own way. I took lots of pictures and some
of them worked and some of them didn't. Some of them are interesting and some
of them aren't. Ultimately, I have a catalog of two years of worth of work, which
is restoration, that if I were approached, I would be willing to share.
It's not like I'm going to hold these until the day I die so no one sees them. That's
why agreed to do this interview because I wanted to talk about it and that's why I
gave you the jpeg images for you to look at. I think I gave you the entire
collection, which is something I've never done before. I think it's a good thing that
these images get out there. I'm not looking to make any money out of it. I don't
want to capitalize off someone's misfortune but there are some really good
pictures that are going to be sold. Hopefully they'll make some money for me but
not enough to live on. Just enough to kind of maybe buy a lens or buy a filter.
Melissa: If another Sandy hits, would you embark on a similar project or has this kind of lost its appeal for you?
Kevin: I would do this again in a second. I would do this again in a second but I would do
this during the day with my filters because I can get the same effect that I can get
now using filtering and using camera technique. During the course of the day, I
can do that in broad daylight.
Melissa: There might be the issue of course with people getting in the way?
Kevin: If I'm taking a minute long exposure in the middle of the day you won't see
anyone. People just ghost out. It would actually be different for me if we did have
another hurricane or superstorm or whatever you call it. Would I approach this
project about working at night again? My initial reaction would be yeah,
absolutely work at night because you can get your best stuff at night but then I
would need to look at my equipment and say can my equipment do what I need it
to do and hold up as well as it did before? When I took these pictures, I knew I
was going to have a lot of noise in the pictures. I knew I was going to have a lot
of grain. I knew they were not going to be the kind of picture that you want to
hang on someone's wall and look for clarity and pixel [inaudible 00:49:46].
Would I do it again? I would absolutely do it again but I think I would definitely
try to get more photos during the day and do that sort of thing.
Melissa: Okay. Well, thank you so much for your time, Kevin.
Kevin: You're welcome.
Melissa: I'll end the recording now.
End of Interview