Coal – an icon of pollution, aging infrastructure, and economic struggle – has been a lightning rod in our American political storm. But love it or hate it, we depend on it. Coal accounts for a third of U.S. electricity, and its role is even more significant in the Midwest and Appalachia. Where I live in central Ohio, most of our electricity comes from an aging power plant that relies entirely on coal extracted from mines deep within the eastern part of the state.
I am particularly interested in how we make sense of fossil-based energy production and the cycle of human connections to energy – both as producer and consumer. As a fine arts photographer also trained in energy analysis, environmental studies, and urban planning, I am deeply fascinated by the ways we negotiate the changing landscapes of our lives, in aesthetic, political, social, and scientific terms. My images emphasize the ephemeral qualities of mechanical landscapes, the interplay between identity and anonymity, and the residues of manual labor. I seek to visually represent inherent tensions between the monumentality of industrial systems and the delicate movements in machinery of different scales. An important goal for me is to reconcile the static nature of photography with the kinetic qualities of environments I am drawn to.
Despite the non-human focus of my photographs, they are inherently human-centered. In my most recent body of work, I spent two years capturing images at the same Ohio power plant. I relied extensively on interactions with manual laborers and their supervisors, who served initially as gate-keepers, then as guides, and finally as collaborators, in exploring spaces normally off-limits to outsiders. The resultant images present a dialectic between my own interests and the perspectives of my hosts. My photography is thus an anthropological-aesthetic investigation of the people, process, and physical objects that beget electricity.
My approach is also a deliberate effort to galvanize a chain of conversations where artistic, scientific, and social ideas intersect. The dialog begins at the plant, where my aim is to embody employees’ experience in my images. I then endeavor to extend the conversation to public audiences, whose diverse perspectives continually imbue the objects with additional meaning. Ultimately, my aspiration is that these aesthetically-bound dynamics can serve as a model for reasonable engagements. Through this body of work, I strive to cultivate mutually inflecting human decency across a range of values and opinions connected to our global climate.