I did not intend to document hurricane Matthew and how Charleston, SC weathered the storm.
Against my family's wishes, I decided to stay in Charleston, SC as hurricane Matthew barreled up the east coast. To me, the thought of riding out the hurricane seemed less stressful than joining the nervous herd driving out of town. Governor Nikki Haley had the South Carolina coast under an official evacuation with orders to travel at least 100 miles inland to stay safe.
On Friday afternoon, as I was keeping tabs on who else was not evacuating, I saw a few photos online of downtown businesses with boarded storefronts. I wanted to go see them myself and drove down King Street, jumping out of the car every block or so to snap a photo of a business that had gotten creative with how they taped or boarded up their storefront. In the beginning, my photos were based solely on "hurricane prep aesthetics".
I soon left the car behind and decided to document by foot instead. I walked along King Street from Cannon to Broad, Broad to East Bay and East Bay to the Battery. The further I went, the deeper the sentiment. I had just seen an archive of photos that were posted online in honor of the 10 year anniversary of hurricane Hugo. I began to realize that these photos were not just interesting now, but might be fascinating over time, like a time capsule.
That afternoon, I posted an image of City Hall with it's special hurricane window coverings to Instagram and it immediately got attention and was re-grammed by Garden & Gun. That bit of acknowledgement and the comments that followed were the sparks that led me to think about these photos more seriously and not just from social media perspective.
I continued to post photos that afternoon and into the night as hurricane Matthew came up the coast. Because many people had started evacuating on Tuesday night and this was 3 days later, there was a definite feeling of desperation coming from people who wanted to know what was going on here at the front line.
The storm hit Charleston the hardest between 7-9am on Saturday, October 8, 2016. As soon as it felt safe to go out, I returned to King Street, where I had stared documenting the day before, and followed the same route.
Fortunately for Charleston and unfortunately for a good "after" photo, most businesses on King Street were not too affected. There were downed awnings here and there and alarms going off, but other than that, Charleston had fared well.
What became more intriguing and surreal was seeing Charleston empty of cars and people. It was like walking around a discarded movie set of pastel colored buildings. I could stand anywhere I wanted to take photos and I saw angles on buildings that I'd never seen before.
A good friend texted me asking if I could go check on her house on Rutledge Ave. and this is what led me to explore the heavily flooded areas South of Broad near Colonial Lake. With water up to my waist, I waded down Tradd Street on a mission to get to her house. I was envious (and impressed!) with those who were much more prepared and saw kayaks parked on verandas, as if they were docks.
The clean up continues and as a way to give back to Charleston, I have partnered with the Historical Charleston Foundation to sell limited edition fine art prints of four images from this series. Proceeds will be used to aid in the relief from hurricane Matthew to their historic properties. To purchase, visit: shop.leighwebber.com