In his project, 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. These images were taken between 2014 and 2016, three to five years after the storm.
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, more than 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.
Ira Wagner began studying photography in 2008, after working on Wall Street for more than 25 years. With an interest in urban history and design, he has focused on photographing the urban landscape. He received his MFA from the Hartford Art School in 2013 and taught photography at Monmouth University in New Jersey from 2013 to 2021. He is currently the Executive Director of the Montclair Art Museum in Montclair, NJ. For his MFA project, Superior Apartments, he spent two years photographing the landscape of the Bronx. In addition to Twinhouses of the Great Northeast, since graduating he has completed his project titled Houseraising, photographing houses being raised on the Jersey Shore following Hurricane Sandy. This project was featured in The New Republic, The National Geographic, and was released in a photobook by Daylight Books in 2018. Based on images from Twinhouses, he was selected a Critical Mass Top 50 photographer by Photolucida and participated in Review Santa Fe. Twinhouses was also highlighted in a number of photography blogs including The Washington Post and Lenscratch. He is currently working on photographing the landscape along the Northeast Corridor train route between New York and Washington.
© text and pictures by Ira Wagner