me

The news of the flooding in and around Nashville began hitting the local media Saturday afternoon. Speculation held that we would receive at least eight inches of rain in a twenty-four hour period; however, the estimates were off by nearly ten inches. I woke up Sunday morning to a phone call informing me that the farmers market four blocks from my apartment had sustained massive flood damage. Ignoring the requests by law enforcement to stay home, the defiant adventurer in me decided to grab my gear and go. My original objective was to take still photos of the happenings in and around my neighborhood, but I quickly realized that still photos wouldn’t have done much justice. I saw shop owners wading chest-deep in murky water, trying to save what was left of their livelihoods; contents of their shops floating all around them. I saw families evacuated from their homes without a chance to collect their only belongings. I drove past parking lots full of vehicles almost completely submerged in water. This kind of flooding hasn’t been seen in Nashville in over seventy years; we simply weren’t prepared for it.

The human element to this story is vast and far-reaching. Lives have been lost, homes and cars destroyed, entire neighborhoods underwater and their inhabitants displaced. The news media had focused so much on the water rising instead of what the rising water was directly affecting; people. I didn’t set out to capitalize on a tragedy. I didn’t set out on a vast humanitarian effort. I set out to take pictures of people in my neighborhood and I ended up getting caught up in the emotion of what I was capturing. I wanted to share what I was seeing and experiencing and I did it the best way I knew how.

The way I see it, if you are true to yourself and true to your craft, people will see the real heart and motivation behind your actions and respond appropriately. I have a huge problem with so called “slacktivists” who are quick to talk and slow to act. There are far too many artists, writers, musicians and photographers who align themselves with causes and do little, if nothing, to help with said causes. They tend to be vocal, uninformed, and carry a sense of entitlement that their art is more important or more necessary than others. These are sharply contrasted by those who dedicate their art and their lives to capturing and sharing the needs of the less fortunate. I’m seeing that we can use our art to promote true, good, and meaningful change; not the kind spouted by slick politicians using enigmatic buzzwords. The catch is, you’ll never know what good can come of your work if you don’t get out there and use your talents.

For those curious about the technical aspects of the video, it was shot completely with a Canon 5D Mark II at 1080p and 24 frames per second. I mainly used Canon’s 85mm and 50mm primes as well as a 35mm on a few shots. I edited and color corrected in Adobe Premiere Pro CS4. The shakiness of the video was a bit of a concern for me, but I’m not a videographer so I don’t have all of the necessary tools. Shooting this showed me the need for shoulder stabilization and a follow focus.

I don’t claim to be a great artist or a great photographer. I’m certainly not a great cinematographer. This was my second attempt ever at shooting and editing a video. As the news services picked it up and Twitter exploded with retweets from various blogs, I began feeling very uncomfortable about the “success” of my work. The praise received began to feel misdirected and frankly, wrong. This wasn’t supposed to be about me and my abilities – it was about getting the word out about a tragedy which the mainstream media had yet to satisfactorily cover. Soon after the buzz began to die down, I started receiving numerous notes thanking me for bringing this tragedy to light. I heard from viewers who were brought to tears by the images I had captured. I heard moving personal stories from people directly affected by the tragedy. As of writing this, my video has received over 130,000 views. That’s 130,000 people who otherwise may have not heard about what was happening. Even though it wasn’t my original intent, I’m thankful for the opportunity to share Nashville’s current situation with so many people.

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If you feel inclined to help, but you live outside of the Nashville area, there are several local charities to which you can donate. I can wholeheartedly recommend The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, Hands On Nashville, and The Salvation Army.

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30 Comments

  1. Thanks Michael!

    I’m a part time photographer from Nashville, and I want to thank you for your words. You are right, it seems that this was something the media did not grab hold of, quick enough. I’ve suffered a complete loss of my basement, at one time, we had 6 foot of water rushing through. But the loss I’ve suffered, is nothing compared to the devastation we have suffered as a city! Once I get my basement taken care of, I’ll be posting some photos to my site.

    Thanks Scott, and Michael for all you do for the photographic community! You guys are great!

  2. Michael I just sat in stunned silence reading your blog post and watching your video; Incredibly powerful and incredibly moving! Ill be honest, living in the UK I was unaware of the amount of damage to lives the flooding had caused and having watched your video I feel slightly ashamed at that fact but in a way I guess this shows the importance of what you’ve put together.

    Watching the water flowing, the rain pouring and people struggling to move around it made me think how much at the ‘mercy’ of mother nature we all are; almost like every now and again ‘she’ sends out reminders of what can be done…does that make sense?

    Well now I’m one of the many 130,000+ people who have now watched your video; one of the 130,000+ who without your video would never have been aware of what our ‘friends’ were going through I can only hope that normality or as near as can be is restored soon.

    Best wishes to you,
    Glyn

  3. Micheal, like Glynn I have to admit that I was completely oblivious to this incident in the US; here in the UK, news coverage for the U.S. seems to have focused on the NY Times Square incident. If it’s been reported over here, somehow I’ve missed it.

    Over the past few years over here in the UK we’ve had several flash flood incidents in various places at different times of the year. Whilst geographically this incident is on a bigger scale, the impact on people is nonetheless just the same – loss of property, livelihoods, sentimental objects and possibly even the lives of family or friends. Whilst the media attention may die down and move onto the next story once the flood waters have receded, the impact from their loss carries on a lot, lot longer for people. Regretfully some of the areas affected by floods here in the UK, have been in the position of nearing recovery or normality, before the power of nature strikes the area again.

    I’m sure the local community will pull together and support each other during this hardship and I trust the local / federal government really helps & supports people through this too.

    Thanks for sharing this video with us, and best wishes to Scott and other individuals affected by this incident.

  4. very powerful work. I know you are not looking for praise… but when you do something worthwhile, you deserve it. That was beautiful and heartbreaking. The last shot of the person walking listlessly was so full of emotion and captured what is going on so perfectly. Incredible work. Thank you for sharing

  5. Living here in the south east USA I heard about the flooding in Nashville and read about it online but I never really had a grasp of the impact of the event until after watching your video. Thank you for taking the time to go out and shoot it and not stay at home as advised by the authorities. You captured the event better than any news crew could ever hope to do. Best of luck to those in Nashville, I hope you recover quickly.

  6. Powerful. I was in tears when I watched this. I think mostly due to the fact that I have lived in Nashville for over 40 years. It is my home and I am very proud to call myself a Tennessean as I witness why we are called the volunteer state. I faired well just a little water in the basement but the majority of my neighbors had flooded basements and neighborhoods around Old Hickory Village that sit on the Cumberland are gone. This has only just begun. There is still so much to clean up and rebuild. Please everyone who reads this blog post keep Nashville in your thoughts. It is just heart breaking to see the devastation and hear about people dying. Thank you Scott for sharing Michael’s moving documentation.

  7. God bless you, Michael. It’s a wonderful video capturing an awesome (in the awful way) event. I live in Middle Tennessee, fortunately in an area where flooding is/was not the issue it is closer to Nashville, but I have friends who have been affected – and friends who have taken those people and pets into their homes. That’s one of the best things about this area – the willingness and even enthusiasm of the people to help others. Thanks, too, to you, Brad, for asking Michael to post this timely message and to Scott for providing the venue.

  8. Still watching the video as it loads. Very nice read again.

    It said what devastation can happen due to natural disasters. (can’t blame it’s giving humans back what we did to the nature).

    Very vast coverage of various situations. The video has come out very nice and that too without any help to stabilize the shoot. Actually that gives it a more real feel to it.

    Visited your web as well. Good work there too.

  9. Very powerful. The words and video instantly brought me back to the situation we faced in Rhode Island last month. The devastation is unfathomable, and it gives new appreciation for the true power of the elements. While we are stilling cleaning up and helping those affected, the process is slow, and painful. But, through this tragedy, hope is renewed and faith is strengthened. I pray that those affected in Nashville will experience the same in the coming weeks and months. God bless.

  10. Very good job. Thanks for opening all of our eyes to Nashville’s current plight…..

  11. Micheal, It’s hard to fathom what floods can do. I can’t believe that where I stood behind the stadium doing a pano is underwater now (I was at a Dave Cross seminar last year). Nashville is a great town and I know they will recover. Your video is great (makes me want to learn Premier Pro!) and It really is emotional. Good luck their and God Bless.

    • Hey Ken,
      Have fun this weekend. I sure wish things would have worked out for us. I’m sure we would have had a great time.
      Mike

      • Mike, I’m glad you reminded me, I need to remember to ask about Texas while I am there. I will post some photos when I get back. It is the same spot (Darlington) that we had our interstate sweep last week! Talk at ya soon.

  12. Michael
    Having lived through a flood 15 years ago, I feel these folks’ pain. your video really brought back memories both good and bad from that devistating time in my life. The bad memories are obvious. The good memories came from my employer. I was working at a fast-food taco place here in OKC. They paid for all of the doors, trim, sheetrock, carpet, and refrigerator, and then gave me a week off with pay that I wasn’t entitled to yet because of my lack of employment length. My so-called church family did nothing.
    Funny how those whom you might not think to depend on come through, and those you expect help from do nothing.
    Thanks for a powerful message today,
    Mike

  13. A very powerful video….and because of the devastation it captures, I feel almost weird saying it was beautifully done…but in my opinion, it was. I’m not one to watch the news….and when I have watched recently, I have seen the same arial photos of what looks to be a flooded upscale neighborhood again and again. I had no idea how widespread it was until I saw your video. It has given me a personal look at the tragedy…more than any of the other images I have seen since the storms went through. Thank you for opening my eyes today. My thoughts are with you all.

  14. Whatever your intentions, what happened was completely natural and appropriate. You shot a video in the right place at the right time, and followed your instinct. This video brought the disaster to life for me. Thanks.

  15. I used to live in Nashville and now reside in Memphis. I was in Nashville over the weekend to teach and got caught in this. It has broken my heart tremendously. I have friends who have lost everything there.

    This post sadly is more coverage than most major networks are giving this event.

    Michael thank you for taking the time to put this together. Scott thank you for giving it space on your blog.

  16. Michael. It’s a wonderful and moving video. You mentioned the camera shake in the text of the blog. You might try putting it through iMovie. It does have something that corrects that, although I don’t know if it is professional quality. I don’t shoot video either, so I’ve hardly used the feature. Maybe give it a shot!

  17. As a fellow Tennessean I appreciate your efforts here to cover the events. I also understand the conflict between using your talents and the human side. I was in Tijuana last week on a mission trip to some desperately poor areas and I went through those storms in Nashville on the way home this weekend. I think I understand in a new way how a photograph is successful if it centers on the story of the subject and not the giftings of the photographer. It’s a humbling thought. We want to be recognized for our ability but ultimately the story is in the subject and not ourselves.

  18. Very nice indeed! I am struck by a couple things…have I missed it or has this disaster not gotten much attention? And video can REALLY bring an event to life!

    Superb job!

  19. The attempted bombing in NY has gobbled up all media attention.

  20. Yeah the attempted NY bombing and the oil spill has taken all the medias attention. And to think this video probably isn’t even the worst of the devastation.

  21. Hi Michael,

    Your video was warm, heart felt and real. I don’t think a professional videographer could have done a better job! I was blown away by this … and to finally find out you did it with a Canon 5D, unbelievalble. I really didn’t notice any camera shake, because I was focused on the story you were making … in one scene you blurred and then focused on the fence and beyond really nice touch! I’m sorry that the people of Nashville had to go through a major flood of this magtitude. Very devastating. Thank God you were there to capture and let us all see the effects!

    Thanks for share with us!

    Dennis

  22. Michael, wonderful job showing the human side of the tragedy of the floods in Tennessee. I have been to Nashville a few times and it is one of my favorite places to visit. I am so saddened by the tragedy that has hit Nashville and the surrounding communities. I’m glad your video brought some attention to the devastation. Your video and the coverage on http://www.thetennessean.com/flood really bring home just how bad the situation is.

  23. Thanks for shooting this, Michael. I live about two blocks from where you shot some of your footage on Gallitan Rd. and I have friends who live in TX who I think simply don’t understand what has happened here. This video sums it up in a powerful but simple statement. My wife and I made it through relatively unscathed while next door neighbors had 4+ feet of water, so we’re some of the lucky ones I suppose. I hope you made it through OK, too.

    Bill

  24. touching work, despite your technical fears.

  25. Michael your video was very moving and with only the music and the shots, you drove home the tragedy. Opereation Photo Rescue http://www.operationphotorescue.org/ is planning a trip to Nashville in 3 to 4 months to help those with flood damaged photos. We are hoping to set up at Belmont University for people to bring in their damaged photos. OPR restores and ships photos back free of charge. The most important thing now is for people not to throw away photos that could be saved and also important on how to care for those photos. On our forum is some helpful tips on care: http://www.operationphotorescue.org/forum/index.php/topic,2739.msg25510/topicseen.html#new

  26. Michael,

    Thank youf or this video and your post.. I was in Ashland City (Cheatham County) there with relatives during this and I was doing my best to capture a little of the scene from what I could.. Your video captures the emotion moreso than much of the coverage that just shows the water, and effects. I’m not quite sure if it’s the music, angles, or the whole combination but it is really a moving work. I will be writing a post myself and posting a few of the images I have this weekend on my blog, now that I’m back in Georgia and can catch my breath.

    Luckily the water stopped about 2 blocks away from my grandmother’s house, although did get some in the laundry room, but needless to say there was a lot of nervousness there as the releases from the dams upstream were happening. I just had a P&S digital with me but I think it goes to show that having a camera of any time handy can be a powerful tool, and combined with the Internet news can spread that might otherwise not make the “big time news”

    Thank you for sharing your experience and your work, and as for your “shaking” in a couple of places due to not having the shoulder brace, I think that actually added a little to the raw emotion and feeling of those that rode it out and are still riding it out as the cleanup gets underway.

  27. I would like to know if it could be possible to have guest blogger that has his/her experties is architecture. Or if it is not possible, a couple of referalls would be nice because I don’t know where to start looking for inspiration.

    Thanks,

    Kind Regards,

    Miguel

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