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Sat May 23, 2020, 09:30 AM

Picturing Climate Crisis in Miami

NY Review of Books
May 23,2020
By Monica Uszerowicz is a writer and photographer in Miami, Florida.

The radiation-green cover of FloodZone, a new collection of photographs by Anastasia Samoylova, is half-filled by the belly of a swimming alligator, its suspended claws both graceful and menacing. The shape is recognizable but still novel for any Floridian, more likely to have seen gators from above. In another image, a manatee’s curved form embodies a dark, winding topography.

FloodZone evokes not so much the tension between Miami’s ecological precariousness and its irrepressible beauty as their intertwined unity. Upon her arrival to the city from Great Barrington, Massachusetts, nearly four years ago, Samoylova was struck by the fauna, how it crept into urban areas—an egret on a crosswalk, an octopus in a garage. “It reminded me of J.G. Ballard’s Drowned World,” she told me at her studio, as sun-starched as her images. “I questioned whether humans were ever meant to really inhabit this place.”

South Florida’s environmental history—of dredging and draining, the local ecology ever more endangered by development and greed—is not unique, although the landscape manifests the havoc with a particular urgency. Miami is sinking—or, the water is rising. The sea level around Virginia Key, a local barrier island, rises an inch every three years; Florida’s bedrock is porous limestone, which allows saltwater to flood the state from below. You see the damage in the sunny-day floods of high tides; in the ceaseless street-lifting construction; in the quickening gentrification of residential neighborhoods on higher ground, with the attendant displacement of older communities.

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