Silvery waves slosh at the ornate jetty of Vizcaya, a Renaissance-style museum on Miami’s Biscayne Bay. They spill gently over the patterned marble deck and spread around the feet of a woman with a camera. The sea is coming. Perhaps not today, but it is coming. In the lush surrounding gardens, the neck of a carved stone swan was broken by Hurricane Irma. A minor loss, given the many lives taken by the water and wind as they swept in from the southeast.
When a hurricane approaches, the air tingles. The sea does strange things. In minutes, the sky can turn from azure blue to slate gray. Turbulence comes out of nowhere. You can picture what follows, and many photographers do, but you will find no images of catastrophe in Anastasia Samoylova’s “FloodZone.” She is looking for other things, the subtler signs of what awaits the populations that cluster along shorelines. What is it to live day by day on a climatic knife’s edge? What psychological state does it demand? Hurricanes are sudden and violent; sea-level rise is insidious and creeping. The low-level dread of slow change, and the shock of sudden extremes. Climate and weather.
Miami is raising some of its roads and sidewalks, hoping a few feet will be enough, but enough for what? Enough to keep next season’s tourists from going elsewhere? Enough to assure citizens that matters are under control? There are serious concerns that the limited fresh water is turning salty. Mostly the place carries on, as do most of America’s coastal states, knowing what is coming yet unable, or unwilling, to change. Is disaster more easily imaginable than the painful steps that might avert it? Yes, is the horrifying answer. Disaster will come of us doing nothing, while the painful steps would—will—have to be taken actively, and by us all. A poverty of imagination may be our biggest challenge. […]