10 September 2012


Some people are too important to die. The effort they make inspires too many, the work they do has too large an impact, and their selflessness and generosity propel so many others to great efforts. One cannot imagine that they are mortal.

Though short in stature, Larry Gibson was a giant of a man. In life, he did more to fight mountaintop removal mining (MTR, one of the great environmental injustices of our day) than any other person. His tireless campaigning and constant willingness to guide journalists, activists, and concerned citizens through the scenes of this nightmare were both an inspiration and an invaluable component of the effort to stop this crime.

Wanting to photograph MTR, I called Larry on recommendation from a friend, and he opened his home, his calendar, and his heart to me. I went to his place, adjacent to one of the largest MTR sites, numerous times, and Larry always had time to feed, house, and guide me.

One of the large coal mining companies had acquired the land around Larry and destroyed it, then used every possible method to take his. They killed his dogs, they sent bullies to intimidate him, they broke up his parties, and those are only the stories he shared with me. But, Larry was not a man to be intimidated.

The world is a smaller place now that Larry will not answer the phone with that thick West Virginia accent. But he still lives with all of us who loved and were inspired by him.

14 August 2012


While the debate about "Obamacare" rages, with the doomsayers claiming national fiscal ruin, and the proponents touting the GAO's projected savings, I will throw a couple of personal pennies into the fray.
Recently, in Germany, i had a small infection on my thumb, which i ignored till the pain prevented me from retrieving coins from the pocket. A friend made an appointment with a doctor she knew, elaborating that i was in a hurry, and could i run in the next day and be seen promptly. Contrary to my usual tiresome tardiness, i was more or less on time, and, with a minimum of paperwork, was shown in to a treatment room. Shortly thereafter, the doctor entered, listened to my explanation, prescribed treatment, and walked me out to the desk to sign out.

Time to pay at the doctor is always stressful. Must I give them my firstborn?
They inquired about my insurance, and i embarrassedly told them that I was an American artist, and we lived without those luxuries, praying for health, and dreading the fiscal consequence of illness. They expressed the usual disbelief of the civilized for the unwashed, and asked about the new health care law, to which I replied that the battle was still under way. I assured them I would pay, and, based on my experience with the US healthcare system, expected that I would have to cash in my plane ticket home to cover it. In the most apologetic way they handed me a bill for 38 euros, about $45. In the USA, this would have cost at least $200, and i would never have waltzed in the next day, be seen promptly, and on my way.

So when someone tells you that it doesn't work in countries with universal health care, look at this map of the countries that provide it and note that Amerika is the one "developed" nation that does not. And i can personally attest that Germans live as well or better than us, so don't start with the "it will bankrupt us" line.

Please. Healthcare. Now.

18 July 2012


We were extremely pleased when Dartmouth's Hood Museum notified us that the student curatorial team had chosen “Arsenic is Grey” as their addition to the permanent collection last year.

The Museum's focus on environmental photography is a pleasure to see in this world of denial. It was also gratifying that they invited me to come speak in conjunction with the exhibit “Looking Back at Earth” for which my image was chosen as the key artwork.

The trek from NYC to Dartmouth is long, and, as I always prefer mass transit, the best option was a bus from the Yale Club, which proved to be a door-to-door pleasure, complete with internet and decent coffee. Hanover, NH has many features of other college towns: a thriving cultural life, good organic and local food (so hard to find elsewhere in the USA), and decent coffee, though the boutique cafe brews each cup singularly using a plastic drip funnel, a horror for a plastiphobe like myself. I spoke first to a Photo 101 class, and as usual in that setting, bounced back and forth between photo-technique and environmental. My query established that there were some climate change deniers in the group, so I did not hammer that sensitive issue too hard (god bless amerika). We live in a land polarized by vitriolic dialog, and a rabid denial of science. The water is rising and storms increasing, yet half of our population clings to the Fox party line that climate change is non-existent (god bless amerika). But God will not save us, only we can do that, but the tipping point comes perilously closer. Once we push up global temperature enough to release that frozen methane in the tundra and ocean floor, game over.

But it's pointless to tell this to someone fed on a diet of Fox disinformation, because, like the Incas that could not see the murderous weapons of the Spaniards, they will not hear it.
So I take pictures. Of the things that are causing cancer and climate change. And I make them disturbingly beautiful, so they create doubt in the minds of the certain. Because dialog has failed in our country, and hard has a magical way of getting around that, of sidestepping the “rationalizing brain.” So just look at the pictures, and I will try to keep my mouth shut. And think about the impact on your grandchildren of that next roll of toilet paper you buy.

After the class there was a well-attended public talk in the auditorium, with lots of questions at the end, which I love. Dartmouth was a wonderful experience, and it's a pleasure to interact with young people that are asking questions with open eyes. I hope they can awaken the rest of us.

13 June 2012

Projekt Senckenberg

As the world becomes ever more virtual, with seemingly any purchase, communication, or information available through the ether, leaving the house seems ever more a tiresome inconvenience. And noone can deny the importance of the web, to the point that lack of a presence there seems anywhere from charmingly anachronistic to downright dangerous. The Senckenberg Museum in Frankfurt is one of the most respected natural history museums in the world, on par with New York’s Museum of Natural History. Their recent symposium “Exhibit Nature, Explain Science” was an examination of the role of traditional museums in the contemporary electronic world with presentations by a range of participants from other nature museums showing cutting-edge exhibits to technology vendors with new tools for dissemination. And me. Ironies abound in our world: everyone loves nature shows on television, but participates (albeit unwittingly) in the destruction of this realm we love. Perfect example: toilet paper. Who would think that paper companies denude old-growth forests to make this product that we flush away several times a day? The lesson? One of the simplest things the individual can do to save wildlife is buy TP made from recycled stock. This is the type of message that goes perfectly in a nature museum. The experience of presenting to such an audience was fantastic, with more to come, we hope. To speak to such a group, talk about one’s project, then get the live feedback, is something that the internet can never do; and thus the importance of live interaction. We are social animals. Nothing can replace the experience of the face-to-face meeting and exchange.

07 March 2012


One of the interesting things about hydro-fracking for shale gas is that the plays are relatively low production. So, a lot of wells must be drilled to produce a significant volume of gas (thus dotting the countryside - nay - now read: industrial zone, with well pads, like one every few blocks). And of course, all that gas must be collected from all those wells and routed to a central distribution point, and from there to your home. (By the way, it leaks a bit at every step of the way, creating a tremendous local pollution and climate change problem). To move the gas from well to home, pipelines are the preferred method, over hill and dale and through the rivers they run.

Currently, in the pincushion once known as Pennsylvania, the new scheme is to run a pipeline through the Endless Mountains. The appeals to the reason of the courts have been struck down by the arm of the American Petroleum Institute, once known as the Pennsylvania legal system, and the logging machines are in gear, like the army of Saruman, cutting a wide gash through the wilderness in preparation for the giant ditch soon to follow. Run, ye precious flora, fauna, and nature lovers alike, your haven is destroyed.
So, like the armies mustering for the battle of clear futility, I prepare to fly today to photograph the destruction.

The similarities to the Lord Of The Rings are just too precious.

LightHawk, personified by the great aviator Bob Keller, like the Great Eagle who rescued Gandalf, will take me to enjoin the battle wherever we find the machines of desecration on their tortured path.
But like true believers, we never concede defeat, living in the hope of the miracle - that the citizenry will awaken to their peril, throw off the mind-numbing media oppressors and rise to the occasion to demand a shift to a non-hydrocarbon economy.
We promise to be generous when the poor people of Pennsylvania ask us for some of our water.

02 February 2012

Song of the Earth in Weimar

In 1905, having just been expelled from his position as court composer in Vienna, discovering his heart failure, and grieving the loss of his daughter, Gustav Mahler put the poems of Hans Bethge to his signature sound, creating one of the great pieces of modern music, and musically anticipating the turmoil soon to engulf the world.

Multi-media projects in their best iterations magnify the good of each of the component media, just as Mahler's music enhances the words of Bethge. Das Lied von der Erde was created during the apocalyptic collision of the historic narratives of Europe. Juxtaposing lyrical images of the detritus of our consumption with Das Lied von Der Erde is a natural fit for the creation of a larger work to address these modern issues.

Creating a multi-media piece involves interweaving multiple narratives, which sometimes speak to each other, and otherwise tell their own stories. Here was an opportunity for my work to reach a completely new audience, one that was largely unexposed to this message about the looming disasters that face us, and our causal behavior.

So many times a magic idea needs just the one person that “gets it” and makes it happen, seemingly with the snap of the fingers. In this case, that person was Stefan Solyom, conductor of the Weimar Staatskapelle. Then arise the complexities of actually executing a simple idea. The visual animation of the Industrial Scars images was redacted by Joel Plotch, done with an old recording by Bruno Walter and the Vienna Philharmonic to set the meter, a recording Stefan and I had agreed was our favorite.

What a foolish assumption to think that all would go according to plan. The two soloists, of course, had their own interpretation of the proper tempo, and it did not match that of Bruno Walter. The tenor, Andreas Conrad, preferred a much faster rendition, and the soprano Tuija Knihtilä, slower. So there I was, dripping sweat in the dress rehearsal as my masterpiece seemed about to crash and burn. With a deep breath, the idea of continuously adjusting the video playback rate to keep time with the music was the obvious solution, albeit one requiring intense concentration, especially not being a German speaker.

Ultimately, the performance was breath-taking - the projection of Industrial Scars images in HD over the heads of the orchestra was a transformative experience (at least for me).