Daily Picture Show

Smokestacks And Ghost Towns: The Curse Of Coal

Almost exactly a year ago, we presented a series by photographer Daniel Shea that documents mountaintop removal — a destructive process, namely in Appalachia, in which entire mountaintops are razed in the mining of coal. Since then, Shea has been working on a follow-up series called "Plume," which follows the coal up to Ohio, where it's burned to generate electricity.

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    The town of Cheshire, Ohio, was bought out by American Electric Power as health threats to local residents persisted. Other than a few municipal buildings, a pizza shop and one house, the main part of the city is a ghost town.
    All photos by Daniel Shea
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    Mountainteer Power Plant is one of the first coal-burning power plants to test carbon sequestration technologies. The plant rests on the West Virginia side of the Ohio River, but residents in Racine, Ohio, experience the pollution's fallout.
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    Racine, in addition to Cheshire, is one of the main towns profiled in this project. Most local businesses have gone under over the years, leaving the energy industry, hospitals and schools as the main employers.
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    The Ohio River and the Mountaineer Power Plant are seen through a window in the Old Lock 24 Campgrounds Convenience Store in Racine.
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    Cindy Parker, a resident of Rutland, Ohio, in Meigs County, sits in a cabin that houses her father's tools.
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    "The Ohio River became an important element in this project as it related to the region I was working in," Shea says. "It is what physically carries the coal from the mining sites in West Virginia and elsewhere to the power plants to be burned."
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    Coal production has slowed down considerably since the economic downturn, resulting in massive stockpiles outside of some of these power plants.
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    The power line is a simple reminder that we are always on the grid.
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    The "Green Corridor" is a community of herbalists in southeastern Ohio who maintain sustainable farms, in contrast to the carbon-emitting coal-fired power plants down the road.
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    Bill Jones is a resident of Racine.
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    Gavin Power Plant is the contentious American Electric Power-owned coal-fired power plant in Cheshire, Ohio.

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As the first image denotes, coal-burning, in some cases, has proven so toxic that entire towns have been abandoned. In the case of Cheshire, Ohio, where Shea photographed, health threats were so great that American Electric Power bought out the entire town — leaving it a virtual ghost town.

"My mom thinks I'm crazy," Shea writes in his blog, "for spending all my money and time traveling to what is otherwise perceived to be 'really terrible and boring places,' but these trips, coupled with cumulative days worth of time behind viewfinders and ground glass arranging elements in a landscape, provide perspectives that have profound impacts on the way I process information."

Considering the content, it feels a bit weird to say that Shea's work is beautiful. But there's a quiet, contemplative underpinning to his photography — and a subtle yet powerful commentary, an inquisition, that smudges the line between art and politics. In a good way. You can see more of Shea's work on his Web site.

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