On Coal and Appalachia
by Daniel Shea
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On Coal and Appalachia is a project by photographer Daniel Shea that features images of the coal industry in Appalachia. Daniel explains his project:
In the summer of 2007, I began shooting a body of work surrounding the coal industry in Appalachia. What began as an interest in the modern coal mining process known as mountaintop removal, quickly evolved into an extensive survey of the social, political, and perhaps most importantly, cultural implications of extracting coal from Appalachian Mountains. What I found over the course of the trip was that these coal-mining processes had quickly developed into one of the most destructive and pervasive forms of modern industry in the world.
Coal, the number one energy-based resource domestically, is responsible for mass environmental destruction, and some, if not most of the United States would agree that it's a necessary sacrifice. The issue's complexities clearly go above and beyond this apparently less-than-polemical "sacrifice," but manifests itself perhaps most potently as a human cost...a cost often associated with contemporary global economics, yet not often addressed critically.
Appalachian culture is historically defined through coal practices and an unfair public misconception about its people. In reality, I found communities preserving culturally rich legacies while either embracing or vehemently opposing processes like mountaintop removal. Of course, there are many that did not fit this neat polarization, but the ideological and economical battle is being waged ferociously in the mountains.
As for my approach, I somewhat reluctantly embraced the histories of my medium, and set out to essentially make a social documentary narrative heavily influenced by contemporary critical thinking about visual culture, the influence of the image in the West, and the strong historical influence of the landscape. My goal is to build a narrative out of context...and then more context. After all, I consider this body of work to be art about a political issue, not political art. My hopes are that the viewer will eventually look at the group of photographs as a complex series of potential contingencies, much like the issue being dealt with.