Sunday, July 23, 2017

Houseraising By Ira Wagner


In Houseraising, Ira Wagner asks, “What would you do to save your home in an environmentally threatened location?” A growing problem worldwide, this project looks at the raising of houses along the Jersey Shore in response to the calamitous damage of Hurricane Sandy.

The New Jersey Shore, “where Americans learned to love the beach,” reflects a complex environment where man stakes a fragile claim on narrow barrier islands and low-lying coastal areas. Seeking access to the sun, sand, water and salt air, people have built summer and permanent homes ranging from modest bungalows to mansions within yards of the sea, with little protection from rising tides and storms.

Up and down the coast these homes are elevated and rebuilt. Faced with tougher local standards for repairing and rebuilding and changing federal flood insurance regulations, homeowners are forced to undergo the expensive process of raising their homes up to 10 or more feet above ground level to be permitted to rebuild and avoid dramatic increases in the cost of federal flood insurance.

Sifting through a slow and bureaucratic process to obtain permits and insurance funds, and in many places forced to halt work during the peak summer season, only now, three years after Hurricane Sandy is rebuilding actively underway with homes of all shapes and sizes being lifted. In the process, they are perched on jenga-like wooden supports, a reflection of their precarious claim on the land, before a new concrete block foundation is built and the house laid to rest on its new permanent supports, while former ground level garage doors and entrance ways must be adapted to their new elevation.

What is it about this place that spurs the herculean efforts to tame it at great cost and effort? Do we believe that our efforts will actually survive the threat of the ocean outside the door? Despite the near certainty of rising seas, warming temperatures and stronger storms, man continues to stake a claim on the shore, even as it appears a fool’s errand.

Houseraising: The Elevated Homes of Post-Sandy Jersey Shore


By Stephanie Valera
Aug 26 2016

When Superstorm Sandy struck the northeastern United States in 2012, the New Jersey coast suffered the most severe winds and surf—and the area had the second highest flood in its history. Causing massive destruction (an estimated 77,000 homes were damaged), the landscape of the Jesery Shore was transformed in the aftermath of the storm. But years later, the Jersey Shore is seeing a different kind of transformation—a transformation of its character with the appearance of elevated homes up and down the coast.

In these post-Sandy years, homeowners are raising their houses, many of which feature the shingle style that emerged in the 1880s and grew in popularity with seaside resorts of the Northeast, one floor up to allow floodwaters to wash underneath. The elevations are made in compliance with new Federal Emergency Management Agency flood zone regulations and for homeowners to qualify for lower cost future flood insurance.

Photographer Ira Wagner, of Montclair, New Jersey, has been documenting these coastal homes—from modest bungalows to more extravagant mansions—for three years, collecting images that would eventually become a photo series titled "Houseraising." Wagner, who teaches photography at Monmouth University, captures the oddness of the homes balancing on wooden stilts as they wait for more permanent, concrete supports. But beyond capturing an unusual sight, he is also capturing man's attempts to adjust to an environment where rising sea levels are a growing threat.

Wagner first noticed the elevated houses in 2013, and visited the Jersey Shore area about 50 times over the last three years to photograph them. What was it about the houses that appealed to him? "Photographing the houses is capturing that special character that exists at the Jersey Shore and elsewhere along the waterfront," he told "There's a uniqueness to them, perched so precariously on these wooden supports that it almost doesn’t seem possible that they’re not going to fall over. And there's sort of a broader idea as well: this is New Jersey’s reaction to this problem, a problem that a lot of different places in world have to deal with."

(MORE: Superstorm Sandy: Then and Now - In Photos)

From Miami Beach to Bangladesh, the problem of rising seas combined with rising populations means millions will be living in homes that flood regularly during the decades ahead. But many of Jersey Shore's residents prefer to keep their coastal houses because they're part of their family histories. "One of the owners remembers going to the shore and staying at his house every summer, from the 1950s," Wagner said. "In a lot of these communities, the houses are small cottages, but the people are really attached to them."

For Jersey Shore homeowners, elevating their houses 10 feet into the air is something they have to do, but not all residents find it easy dealing with the new altitude of their homes. "Unfortunately, some of the people that live [in those houses] are older," Wagner said. "One of the comments I got was that, they would need to deal with all these steps now to get to the front door."

For now, newly elevated homes towering awkwardlyover their lower neighbors will be a common sight, but architects in the area predict that in the next 10 to 20 years, most of the homes of the Jersey Shore will be elevated and tourists and locals alike will have a whole different perspective of the place "where Americans learned to love the beach."

For more on Ira Wagner's photography, visit his website."Houseraising" is part of The Fence 2016, an outdoor photography exhibition at the Brooklyn Bridge Park on view through September. Wagner's work will also be on view in an exhibition "Watersides: Mark Ludak and Ira Wagner" at Monmouth University, September 6 - 20.

After the Deluge, the Raising By Eric Levin


New Jersey Monthly - August 2017

Driving around the Shore the summer after Hurricane Sandy, photographer Ira Wagner saw houses that put him in mind of The Wizard of Oz. But rather than Dorothy's storm-tossed house descending on a magic land, he saw dwellings rising above a storm-tossed scene as if by magic.

GOING UP Above left: Ocean Beach. "I was taken by the blue siding and also the irony of the port-hole like windows," says photographer Ira Wagner. Above right: Bay Head. "A substantial oceanfront house. You can see a sliver of the ocean on the horizon." Left: Union Beach. "A lot of pictures mandated a head-on view because they were houses on either side. But here, I like the randomness of how an environment gets put together." One might find whimsy in the way the shapes of the stop sign and the chimney mirror each other upside down.

Houses were being lifted onto temporary pillars so they could be placed on taller, flood-safe foundations. "It was a fascinating process," says Wagner, 61, who lives in Montclair and teaches photography at Monmouth University in West Long Branch. In 2013 he began driving around, setting up his camera and tripod in front of these literal houseraisings.

"It took so long for people to get permits, line up contractors," he says. "Then it tended to be quick. I'd drive through these towns many times, then suddenly see a house I'd passed before lifted into the sky."

ATTEMPTING NORMAL "This house in Union Beach," Wagner says, "to me shows the way people tried to keep things as normal as possible while they were going through this. You still have the shutters and window boxes, the landscaping and the arbor, as if the front door was there." Houseraising will be published in a book next spring.

Most of the homes were unoccupied, but he met some owners. "One person reached above he head to show me on the telephone pole how high the water got to," he says. "Particularly with the smaller homes, people said they'd been coming since they were kids, it had been in the family for like 50 years, and they felt they had to keep the house and repair it."

"Houseraising," Wagner's title for the series, is both obvious and a reference to the age-old communal activity of barn raising. Gallery 211 on Broad Street in Red Bank is showing 33 of the photographs through August 25.

Until 2008, Wagner had worked on Wall Street, and spent hours looking out train windows on his commute. His new project is shooting in the vicinity of desolate railroad right-of-ways.