Miami, according to a recent report in Scientific American, is quickly becoming the most vulnerable coastal city in the world in terms of storm surges, coastal flooding, and sea-level rise. Anastasia Samoylova, who moved to the city in 2016, the hottest summer on record at that point, saw three hurricanes hit the city in the span of three years. She could have made images of catastrophic scenes – wrecked homes and boats tossed ashore – but instead, the photographs in her series FloodZone explore the stories we tell ourselves to conceal the urgency of the reality unfolding in front of us. “The tension between nature and culture here is so pronounced,” says Samoylova, who is originally from Moscow, “and there’s this fantasy of the conquest of nature.”
Samoylova’s photographs reveal the fragility of that fantasy, capturing the pastel prettiness of the city – one 2019 image of a listing palm tree and its shadow against a wall is titled Miami Pink – while gesturing toward something darker underneath it, a dissonance. A recurring subject is the proliferation of the slick, aspirational imagery that conceals many construction sites, like the computer-generated rendering of a concrete and glass apartment building that fails to hide the rubble and weeds behind it. In a New Yorker Photo Booth piece, David Campany, who wrote an accompanying essay for Samoylova’s book FloodZone (Steidl), observed that her task is to “understand the seductive contradiction of a place drowning in its own mythical images as it also drowns in water.” The cheery pastel colors found on a CGI rendering are echoed in images of creeping mold or salt water deposits, like the greenish blues on the speckled wall in Efflorescence, or the pinkish stain on a pillar in Concrete Erosion. Samoylova tracks the slow, insidious creep of the climate crisis that cities like Miami ignore at their peril. “The dichotomies are so absurd,” she says, “tall buildings sprouting up everywhere, while the city is sinking.” Miami, of course, represents a microcosm of the environmental issues we’re facing on a much larger scale, and the psychological unease conveyed by Samoylova’s photographs feels like the right tone for the current moment.