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The European History of Photography British Photography 1970-2000

I was commissioned to write this a few years ago for the Central European House of Photography in Bratislava (and thank you to all the photo...

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

The mountain that lost its top

picture - Shelby Lee Adams

This story from yesterday's Independent about coal-mining in Kentucky reminded me of lots of things. It reminded me of Indonesia, where the Mormon Mining Company of West Papua (aka Freeport McMoran) removes mountain tops, poisons water and displaces and dispatches the local people - almost the same as happens in Kentucky.

It reminded me of Daniel Shea's recent work, and the older Appalachian work of Wendy Ewald, Shelby-Lee Adams and Susan Lipper. And it reminded me of great mining photograpy, especially that of Marcus Bleasdale and Sebastiao Salgado.

And most of all, when the article mentioned the failure of Obama or Clinton to take on the American mining lobby or defend the environment, it reminded me not to expect too much of whoever becomes the next US president.

The mountain that lost its top

from The Independent

The act of destroying a million-year-old mountain has several distinct stages. First it is earmarked for removal and the hardwood forest cover, containing over 500 species of tree per acre in this region, is bulldozed away. The trees are typically burnt rather than logged, because mining companies are not in the lumber business. Then topsoil is scraped away and high explosives laid in the sandstone. Thousands of blasts go off across the region every day, blowing up what the mining industry calls "overburden".

The rubble is then tipped into the valleys – more than 7,000 have already been filled – and more than 700 miles of rivers and streams have disappeared under rubble and thousands more soiled with toxic waste.

read full article here

End Mountaintop Removal

Kentuckians for the Commonwealth


Daniel Shea said...

colin, thanks for posting this, it's an important issue that deserves the attention.

if you can check out the avant-garde documentary work of bob gates, they're considered a classic both for the issue and in film. he is also a still-photographer that offered an alternative to the poverty-drenched black and white photographs that were popular in his day.

colin pantall said...

Hi Dan - it's definitely an important issue and the more attention the better so good luck with the Ohio River Valley project - hope it goes well.

Funnily enough, I quite like poverty-drenched black and white pictures - I really do.

Daniel Shea said...

thanks colin. i'm not inherently opposed to any type of photography, but that type of work has undeniably left a strong impression on appalachia's public perception, one that is fairly inaccurate and selective. while i was making the project, i encountered several photographers just seeking that type of imagery, being very self-servicing, and just overall asshole macho photographer types. they all said they were trying to make work in the vein of the classic appalachia photographers.

have you seen builder levy or ken and melanie light's work? they work in this vein, but i feel like their perspective is a little fresh and more honest.

colin pantall said...

I know what you mean, Dan, but that isn't the type of photography - that's the people concerned. You get macho street photographers, documentary photographers, art photographers, fashion photographers and so on - and if they are assholes, they are assholes, doesn't matter what they shoot.

I think alot of people throw dirt at some more photojournalistic photographers and question their ethics and it does rankle as hypocrisy and cant - as Bruce Gilden says - "Ethics - Come on!"

It's a bit daft trying to be a classic Appalachia photographer, I must admit - perhaps that's why I like Wendy Ewald's old work so much. It gets under the skin.

Thanks for the links - here's Ken and Melanie Light's site


colin pantall said...

And the Builder Levy link


Anonymous said...

so interesting!
i like the Shelby Lee Adams photo you posted actually. daniel -- do you feel like this one in particular buys into said black & white poverty-drenched visual tradition? i see the cliche that you are pointing to, though i hadn't actually thought it through much before, or thought of your work as in opposition to it.

colin pantall said...

Hi Lexi - it's a great portrait, isn't it. I think Susan Lipper, Wendy Ewald and Shelby Lee Adams all have a twist in their work that marks them out as a little different.