Impressions of a flooded Houston

Story highlights

  • Remnants of Hurricane Patricia brought heavy rain and high water to much of Texas
  • Photographer Max Burkhalter captured the scene in Houston

(CNN)Houston photographer Max Burkhalter is at home making portraits -- the light just right, the location set. The story is usually already written. He usually knows when he's gotten the shot.

When the assignment came last weekend to cover the torrential rains brought by remnants of Hurricane Patricia, the city became his portrait subject for two days.
He set out with no particular destination, open to the story that would unfold. Rivers would swell and roads would flood in parts of Houston, but overall, the city would suffer little damage. Burkhalter looked for ways to tell the story a little differently.
    How do you show water falling from the sky? Burkhalter made scenes out of droplets streaking against yellow and blue lights at the Houston Police Officers' Memorial, and spraying under a street lamp like a showerhead.
    Photographer Max Burkhalter
    There weren't many people to photograph; Burkhalter surmises that Houstonians got smart after previous floods and sought refuge. He found a few willing subjects, like a man walking alone near the Harris County Jail with his feet encased in plastic bags.
    "I just thought it was a really good representation of this storm that was about to come," he said. "I really liked the contrast of the white bags and jeans, and what was interesting too was the bags probably weren't doing this guy any good -- they looked like they were completely soaked on the inside."
    The first day, the storm hadn't really hit, and Burkhalter worried he didn't have anything. But Sunday morning he woke up after hours of heavy rains. Buffalo Bayou overflowed and was almost in the road. Two miles from his house, he found a car submerged.
    Burkhalter, 29, has been working as a photographer for four years. He was taking math and science classes, with plans to study engineering, and the community college where he was enrolled required a fine art elective. He picked black-and-white fine art photography.

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    "I went home and said, 'Mom this is what I'm doing,'" he said. "When I walked around taking pictures, developed it myself, and saw the print come alive in the darkroom, it was just a wonderful experience."
    Now he works with a handful of editorial and commercial clients, shooting portraits, landscapes and architecture.
    Covering the storm brought many new challenges. There was no best light. It was just dark, and wet. The options were "endless," but he didn't know what he had until he got home and started looking at the pictures.
    "It's just pouring rain, and I'm out there with a camera and an umbrella over my head and a towel, trying to get these shots in the middle of the road," he said. "But if it wasn't for the rain, I wouldn't have had the story."