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Sandy photo has something to say

A tree, downed by Hurricane Sandy, fell on a car in Bayside. Photo by Jeffery Pflaum
TimesLedger Newspapers

I could not believe it: A massive tree trunk, measuring 5 feet in diameter, ripped out of the ground with roots and earth dangling in the air. Smashed and suffocated in the rubble by huge branches and leaves was a little red car.

A triangular branch frame formed around it, with red and green leaves creating a Christmas-like wreath. The triangle seemed to be telling the car, “Sorry, you’re not going anywhere, at least not for awhile.” And when I looked again through the debris, a stop sign appeared.

“What happened here?” I said to a man sitting in shorts and moccasins on a stoop. “Do you know whose car this is?”

Sadly, he said the car was his and that the tree just scraped the kitchen window of the house.

“Lucky for you,” I said to this seemingly contented man.

I wished I had my camera. The scene moved me in a way I could not put into words. How did it affect me beyond the obvious? What was going on inside my mind? My thinking stopped when a man balanced himself on the giant trunk and began taking pictures. I decided then to return to the shocking reality and photograph Hurricane Sandy’s tree and the autumn wreath she left behind as nature’s gift.

The next day, I took several shots of the demolished red car, loaded up the disk on my computer and appraised the images while ruminating about all the elements: the fallen tree trunk, red and green autumn leaves, a triangle of thick branches — the Christmas wreath — engulfing a red car and the corner stop sign.

The photograph became symbolic, for me, because it triggered many things inside that I could not express at the moment. As I do at times, I contemplated the different pieces of the puzzle that composed the image to see if I might conjure up what was happening on a deeper level.

Did Sandy leave us a symbolic code to decipher? What was her message?

Can you discover symbols in the photograph and help me respond to Diane Arbus’ paradoxical quotation: “A photograph is a secret. The more it tells you the less you know”?

Jeffrey Pflaum


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