Daniel Shea

Daniel Shea

Work from Plume.

“Plume is a photographic exploration of Southeast Ohio and its unusually dense concentration of coal-fired power plants. The project serves as a follow-up to the work I made in 2007 in Appalachia, Removing Mountains, which focused on mountaintop removal, a particularly pervasive form of coal mining. Plume follows this coal up river to Ohio, where it is being burned to generate electricity.

Geographically rooted in two towns along the Ohio River, Plume focuses on Racine and Cheshire, who sit in close proximity to 4 power plant stations, all within a 15-mile radius. The landscape of these towns presents itself in distinct layers. The subdued palette of the river, with its plodding pace, carries not only coal, but a unique regional sentimentality. Off the banks of the river exist people and sparse economic growth, and above them sprawl small mountains and Appalachian biodiversity. The trees, reaching for the sky, are outpaced by their synthetic allies in upward ambition. These smoke stacks are as ubiquitous landscape accompaniment in contemporary life as any, and in this series they are presented in their social environment, separated from their industrial foundation. Their repetition in the landscape creates a stabilizing visual element throughout the series. I want the viewer to scan the horizon line, looking for the visual cue that connects subject to place, and ultimately, to narrative.

Southeast Ohio resonates a hidden fragility, not just in the industry’s inevitable demise, but in the dejection of its citizens. Like many mono-industrial cultures the resources are being exhausted, much like the emotions of the residents. Coal-fired power plants present myriad of environmental hazards. Burning coal releases carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides into the air, in addition to equally toxic solid by-products that erode from nearby landfills into local ecosystems. Hypothetically, state and federal regulatory bodies exist to monitor the process, but systematic and longstanding deficiencies within these organizations allow these coal-burning facilities to continue to threaten the environment and local communities.

  Coal exists beyond industrial and historical development as a larger abstract presence that is woven into the cultural fiber of Ohio. Here, the air of restlessness predicts an overwhelming ambivalence towards the coal industry. The citizens and land of Ohio and West Virginia are the source point in a vast grid of energy distribution. This burden of heavy resource usage is a type of political and industrial play, mirrored in other industry-specific rural economies, and constitutes an act of complex resource siphoning. In other words, non-Appalachian citizens are benefactors of not only inexpensive energy access, but of distance from the destructive industry that makes this access possible. This sociopolitical paradigm, as old as industry itself, calls into question our confounding relationship to power.” – Daniel Shea

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