Hurricane Sandy’s Devastation–Told Through The Photos Of Regular New Yorkers

Professional photography alone can’t tell the story of the superstorm. A new exhibit uses images snapped by the people in the storm to remind us of what happened.

Hurricane Sandy was a tragic time for New Yorkers. It was also a time when they collectively took out their cameras like never before.


One year later, a new exhibit opening this week at the Museum of the City of New York displays 200 of the best of these photos, curated from more than 10,000 submissions by over 900 amateur and professional photographers.

“Our intention for the exhibition is to tell the original story of the storm, so people get the experience of what getting through it was like, what life was like after the storm, and how people struggled and worked together, and are trying to move on,” says Sean Corcoran, the print and photo curator at the museum.

Crowdsourcing the exhibit, which is called Rising Waters, gave it a wider variety of perspectives compared to more traditional photography exhibitions. The museum first tried the idea with an Occupy Wall Street exhibit that it organized in 2011–another story that really needed to be told from varied viewpoints.

“There’s the images that have become, in a sense, iconic and very familiar. But there were a lot of people affected by the storm and who were there, and happened to take pictures,” Corcoran says. Among his favorites along those lines is a photo taken by a man named Michael Stewart, who is standing in his doorway as the floodwaters are about to break through a storm door. The water is seen at the window level and pouring through the key hole. “The composition is very ‘snap-shotty,’” says Corcoran. “It’s a photograph that is so stark and so jarring, but it’s a photograph that you would never have seen in the news media.”

The exhibit, which runs through March 2 and is presented in collaboration with the International Center for Photography, is organized into six sections portraying the storm itself, the destruction it caused, the human story of coping, and the aftermath of discovering the damage and offering relief. Lastly, it focuses on the work in the subsequent months showing the still-ongoing recovery. A separate section of Rising Waters shows Instagram photos taken by a handful of photojournalists, which were just a few of the stunning 800 photos per second that were posted on the photo-sharing site at Sandy’s peak.

“We want people to take away the knowledge and the memory, and know that this is not over for people and, in fact, this may not be the last time that this happens. And that we need to be thoughtfully prepared in the future,” Corcoran says.

About the author

Jessica Leber is a staff editor and writer for Fast Company's Co.Exist. Previously, she was a business reporter for MIT’s Technology Review and an environmental reporter at ClimateWire.