Petrochemical America: Picturing Cancer Alley

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Last month, when news outlets around the country covered our press event revealing toxic phthalates in children’s Back To School supplies, we were proud of the work we’d done. Tens of thousands of Americans had been educated about how to avoid real risks to their children’s health.

Abandoned trailer, Mississippi River, Near Dow Chemical Plant, Plaquemine, LA, 1998. From Petrochemical America, photographs by Richard Misrach, Ecological Atlas by Kate Orff (Aperture 2012).

But as so often happens, absent from the coverage were the stories of the people who live near the chemical plants that produce the vinyl, whose land, air, and water has been harmed for decades by some of the most profitable companies in the world.

This month, CHEJ is proud to help present those stories in a way they have never been presented before.

Petrochemical America: Picturing Cancer Alley is a groundbreaking new collaboration by photographer Richard Misrach and landscape architect Kate Orff, debuting at Aperture Gallery and Bookstore in NYC tonight. Through haunting photographs and innovative composite images employing ecological and sociological data, gathered over the course of 14 years on the banks of the Mississippi river in Louisiana, the book and gallery exhibition provide a moving and deeply informed portrait of the American “sacrifice zones” upon which our use of plastics, oil, and gas depends. Read more about Plaquemine, LA, pictured above.


For those in New York City, we invite you to attend two free, upcoming gallery events:

  • Tuesday, Sept. 25th, at 6:30pm: A panel discussion with our own Mike Schade, joined by Ms. Orff and Wilma Subra of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network.
  • Tuesday, Oct. 2nd, at 6:30 pm: A talk and screening of the excellent and darkly comic film Blue Vinyl, with author David Rosner and landscape designer Gena Wirth.

Both events are free and include access to the exhibit. They will take place at Aperture Gallery and Bookstore, 547 West 27th Street, New York, NY.



Human mismanagement is turning lush cypress trees into ghostly poles, jeopardizing Louisiana’s bayou ecologies, local economies, and cultures. Requiem for a Bayou. From Petrochemical America, photographs by Richard Misrach, Ecological Atlas by Kate Orff (Aperture 2012).


For our supporters around the country, we encourage you to explore the content of the book and consider purchasing a copy. Aperture Foundation is nonprofit, and book sales help sustain its exhibitions, books, and magazine.

As we continue to advocate in New York City to get PVC out of new construction, renovation, and school supplies in our public schools, projects like Petrochemical America help us and our supporters keep in mind the full scale of what’s at stake in shifting to a safer, more sane, and more just material economy.

  • Deborah

    Wonderful book….worth every penny.