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Mitch Epstein

Why Not in My Backyard?



Mitch Epstein, Amos Coal Power Plant, Raymond City, West Virginia 2004 from American Power (Steidl, 2009)

The township of Raymond City, West Virginia, lies in the shadow of the giant Amos coal power plant. In the fall of 2004, a woman invited me into her backyard to, as she put it, “appreciate the better view of the cooling towers.” A bench sat on the riverbank facing the plant. I imagined summer evenings when residents would drink a beer there and enjoy the view of the massive stacks belching their emissions into the sky above the Kanawha River. I had come to the Ohio River Basin to do what I called energy tourism. I pinpointed a region with energy outputs, then made a week-long drive to watch how Americans were living near them.

I wanted to photograph the relationship between American society and the American landscape, and energy was the linchpin — how it was made, how it got used and the ramifications of both. For the next five years, I traveled the country making photographs at or near coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear, hydroelectric, fuel cell, wind and solar energy production.

The American Power project reflects the deepening of my political convictions. While making this body of work, which coincided with the G.W. Bush presidency, I encountered Homeland Security obstacles, environmental contamination, corporate impenetrability and a culture of excess. My initial curiosity became rage and grief at the state of things in the United States. American Power has led me to think harder about the artist’s role in a country teetering between collapse and transformation.

Posted in: Energy, Environment, Photography

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