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“Collectively Photographing Fracking”: Exhibit Opens in Philadelphia

January 16, 2013

The Marcellus Shale Documentary Project opens in Philadelphia on Wednesday, January 23rd with a reception and panel from 6 – 8 pm at the Gershman Y, at Broad and Pine Streets.  After no less than 400 people turned out on January 15th to two events related to fracking — Sandra Steingraber’s keynote at the Academy and WHYY’s Shale Story forum — this outstanding photography exhibit opening, and its panel, is likely to be popular. The event is free and open to the public.

From the New York Times review of the same exhibit, “Collectively Photographing Fracking

 ….Members of the Marcellus Shale Documentary Project have been quietly canvassing the Pennsylvania countryside to document the people and places caught up in the state’s gas boom. Brian Cohen, the project’s director, said he liked to think of the group as something like a modern-day Farm Security Administration. Together, the six photographers have been able to do what no one of them could do alone: crisscross the state, photograph dozens of drill rigs that have popped up along highways and in backyards, and talk to farmers, homeowners, drillers, environmental advocates and lawyers, all of whom have a profound stake in the invisible substance buried more than a mile below ground.

In the same article, the New York Times acknowledged that

growing complaints of water contamination around the United States have led to concerns that hydraulic fracturing poses grave risks to the health of humans and the environment.

Read the full NYT post, including a preview of the photographs themselves, here.

Impacted People

The Marcellus Shale Documentary Project includes photographs of impacted people, from the Riverdale residents evicted to make way for fracking water withdrawals from the Susquehanna River, to workers splashed by fracking fluid and flowback. One photograph shows the flaming faucet of Jodie Simons of Bradford County, PA, who has been living without clean water for her family and animals since 2010. I first wrote about the Simons family’s troubles in June 2011, in “Black Water and Brazenness: Gas Drilling Disrupts Lives and Endangers Health in Bradford County.”  Here is an excerpt under the subheading “Gray Water, Red Rashes, Flaming Faucets”

“Mom, you’ve got to see my water.  It’s gray.” Bonnie Simons heard her daughter Jodie’s strained voice say over the phone this past February.   The day before, Bonnie says, she was helping her daughter clean and paused to make tea, then noticed something wrong.  Bonnie recalls saying, “Jodie, the water tastes funky,” but then didn’t think more about it.  But later the same day, “we both noticed the water tasted strange.”

…It was only in the morning light that they noticed the water was dark gray.  Bonnie went over for a look and noticed the contrasting color in the toilet bowl: “The bowl was white, the water was gray.”

Jodie began coming over to her mother’s place to fill jugs for the family to drink: her son, the baby; her daughter, ten years old; a couple horses, two outside dogs, two inside dogs, herself and Jason.  Test results showed a high level of methane in the water, and they were told not to drink the water.  But no one supplied them with safe water for months, and they were still using their tap water to bathe and do dishes, having no other option.  Soon the baby had a rash which wouldn’t go away.  Rashes have been reported in association with water contaminated by shale gas drilling operations in many states.

“She quit giving the baby a bath in that water finally.  When she quit, the rash cleared up,” Bonnie said.

The story becomes even more dramatic; when the Simons family refused to sign a release which appeared to absolve the drilling company, Chief, of responsibility for their contaminated water, Chief refused to give the family clean replacement water. When I called PA DEP to urge them to make sure the family had clean drinking water, DEP retorted that the family had “refused” clean replacement water offered by Chief, when the opposite was true: the family was begging for clean water. Read that full story here.

Six Exceptional Photographers

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette gave a rave review of the Marcellus Shale Documentary Project photographers, calling them “six exceptional photographers.”  The Post-Gazette commented, “The resultant exhibit is both art and public service.”

Pittsburgh’s City Paper also wrote a fascinating review, calling the exhibit “powerful and well-conceived.” To see more press about this exhibit, check the Marcellus Shale Documentary Project website here.

The six photographers are: Noah Addis, based in Philadelphia; the extraordinary Nina Berman, with over 70 exhibits to her credit, who first brought the Stiles family’s health impacts from gas drilling to the world’s attention; Brian Cohen, Scott Golsdmith, Lynn Johnson, and Martha Rial. The photographers’ subjects include activists, workers, farmers and residents, and we are especially proud of Lynn Johnson’s uncompromising work. Enough good cannot be said about these dedicated photojournalists and their active investigations into life in shale country, so please check out their biographies here.

Philadelphia Connection: Opening Night

The Wednesday, January 23rd panel includes Brian Cohen, the exhibit’s curator; Susan Phillips, the StateImpact reporter on shale gas drilling; Iris Marie Bloom, Executive Director of Protecting Our Waters; and Jeff Schmidt, Pennsylvania Chapter Director for the Sierra Club.

The exhibit runs through February 14th at the Gershman Y. Again the opening night panel and reception is from 6 – 8 pm on January 23rd at the Gershman Y at Broad and Pine, in central Philadelphia.

  1. January 16, 2013 11:38 am

    I am incredibly excited to report that the Marcellus Shale Documentary Project will also be coming in April 2013 to the Moose Exchange–a vibrant downtown co-op for artists, musicians, and other community projects in my town of Bloomsburg Pennsylvania.

    We are very excited about this opportunity to educate folks from Columbia County about what it means to live and work in the shale regions. For those of us involved in the PA Anti-Fracking movement, the opportunity is valuable indeed!

    Wendy LYnne Lee

    • Eric Peters permalink
      January 16, 2013 12:53 pm

      That’s fantastic Wendy! Thank you for letting us know. Please be sure to follow up with us as the date gets closer and once the details have been finalized so that we may pass it along.

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