Richard Misrach & Kate Orff: Petrochemical America
Published by Aperture
Now available in a compact and easy-to-reference paperback edition, Petrochemical America features Richard Misrach’s haunting photographic record of Louisiana’s Chemical Corridor, accompanied by landscape architect Kate Orff’s Ecological Atlas--a series of "speculative drawings" developed through research and mapping of data from the region. Their joint effort depicts and unpacks the complex cultural, physical and economic ecologies along 150 miles of the Mississippi River, from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, an area of intense chemical production that first garnered public attention as "Cancer Alley" when unusual occurrences of cancer were discovered in the region. This collaboration has resulted in an unprecedented, multilayered document presenting a unique narrative of visual information. Petrochemical America offers in-depth analysis of the causes of decades of environmental abuse along the largest river system in North America. Even more critically, the project offers an extensively researched guidebook to the way in which the petrochemical industry has permeated every facet of contemporary life. What is revealed over the course of the book, however, is that Cancer Alley--although complicated by its own regional histories and particularities--may well be an apt metaphor for the global impact of petrochemicals on the human landscape as a whole.
Richard Misrach (born 1949) has a longstanding association with the American south. His previous monograph, Destroy This Memory, offered a record of hurricane-inspired graffiti left on houses and cars in New Orleans in the wake of Katrina. On the Beach and Violent Legacies addressed contamination of desert and beach areas.
Kate Orff (born 1971) is an assistant professor at Columbia University and founder of SCAPE, a landscape architecture studio in Manhattan. Her work weaves together sustainable development, design for biodiversity and community-based change. Orff’s recent exhibition at MoMA, Oyster-tecture, imagined the future of the polluted Gowanus Canal as part of a ground-up community process and an ecologically revitalized New York harbor.
Featured image is reproduced from Richard Misrach & Kate Orff: Petrochemical America.
PRAISE AND REVIEWS
In 2010, Richard Misrach returned to photograph the strench of Louisiana known as Cancer Alley, a 150-mile section of the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, which he had also explored in 1998. The area is home to petrochemical plants that have polluted the river and spoiled the enviroment for years. Misrach's Petrochemical America is more than a disherting photographic essay on the evils of Dow Chemical... Misrach's view is mainly detached, favoring an objective-ish style free of "decisive moments."
Here, the photo works in concert with Orff's atlas and the book's images of bridges, antebellum relics, Texaco stations, decrepit lots, and the like, creating a kind of systems novel of the poisoned American South. The atmosphere is suffocating, to be sure, and Misrach asks us to breathe it in as deeply as we can.
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