Richard Misrach: Cypress Swamp, Alligator Bayou, Prairieville, Louisiana
Negative 1998, print 2012
Revisiting the South: Richard Misrach’s Cancer Alley
STANFORD, CALIFORNIA • Cantor Arts Center • Ongoing
|The exhibition Revisiting the South: Richard Misrach’s Cancer Alley highlights the severe environmental degradation of the Mississippi River corridor from Baton Rouge to New Orleans. The show features 19 large-scale color photographs and 14 contact sheets.|
Through this series, the American photographer Richard Misrach (born 1949, Los Angeles) presents a stark social commentary about the concentration of petrochemical complexes located along this 100-mile stretch of the Mississippi River. Misrach's portrayals of this once pristine riverine corridor, now known as Cancer Alley, document the far-reaching and ongoing devastation generated by more than 140 industrial plants: eroded ecological systems and the economic deprivation of local, and mostly poor African-American, communities. At the same time, the images engage the viewer with serene pastoral scenes, meandering watercourses and misty marshlands. But his images do more than hint at pollution and death: The petrochemical industry reveals itself as an omnipresent and brazen specter through the photographs’ rusted pipelines, mammoth tankers and tangles of steel, concrete and smokestacks belching noxious fumes and toxins into the air and water.
Throughout Cancer Alley, homes, schools, and playgrounds are situated yards from behemoth industrial complexes. Residents within a one-mile radius of factories are subjected to significant air and water pollution as well as noxious odors and industrial noise. Many communities along the River Road live in abject poverty. The quality of life in Louisiana has been rated one of the lowest in the nation. In contrast, extremely favorable taxation policies have helped draw industry to the region. One-quarter of the nation’s petrochemicals are manufactured here.
— Richard Misrach
This series of photographs was originally commissioned in 1998 by the High Museum of Art in Atlanta as part of the High Museum’s Picturing the South series. This exhibition marks the culmination and publication of this body of work in 2012, more than a decade after the project was initiated.
The exhibition is accompanied by a new publication from Aperture Foundation entitled Petrochemical America, which features Richard Misrach’s photographs of Cancer Alley, accompanied by landscape architect Kate Orff’s Ecological Atlas —a series of drawings developed through research and mapped data from the region. Their joint effort offers creative scenarios of how the area could be repurposed and its social and environmental health restored.
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