After the Deluge, the Raising

Photographer Ira Wagner new series captures the unique visual of shore homes being raised after Hurricane Sandy.

“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 as a book next spring.
“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 as a book next spring.
Photo courtesy of Ira Wagner

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.

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.”

Most of the homes were unoccupied, but he met some owners. “One person reached above his 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.

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