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Welcome To The 'TNT Area,' Home Of The Mothman

In the 1960s, lore has it, a couple reported seeing a huge, winged man — the Mothman, he came to be called — just north of Point Pleasant, W.Va. The area where he was spotted became known as the "TNT area," and it still exists today.

Pond 34, Point Pleasant, West Virginia, 2011

Pond 34, Point Pleasant, West Virginia, 2011 Joshua Dudley Greer hide caption

itoggle caption Joshua Dudley Greer

It's called the TNT area because during World War II, that region — more than 8,000 acres — was devoted to an ammunition manufacturing facility that employed a few thousand people at its peak.

For safety reasons, the explosives were stored in bunkers — or igloos — strategically scattered across the territory and disguised by a thick layer of earth.

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The area was more or less abandoned after the war — converted, in part, to a wildlife management area, partly a landfill. Then, by no surprise, it was discovered in the '80s that the land was severely contaminated by explosives byproducts. It was then added to a federal list of hazardous waste sites eligible for cleanup.

"Today the land is primarily used as a hunting and fishing grounds," says photographer Joshua Dudley Greer, "yet it remains on the EPA's National Priorities List [for hazardous waste]."

Greer, an assistant professor of photography at East Tennessee State University, has been photographing in and around Point Pleasant for about three years. His documentation of these stark landscapes has, over time, culminated in a systematic visual study of the TNT igloos* and the surrounding forestation.

"The iconic structure of the igloos and the eeriness with which they repeat themselves throughout the landscape was what initially interested me," he says.

To make the series, Greer lugs a cumbersome large-format camera around those 8,000 acres, which is no easy feat. "But I actually like the physical task of making these photographs," he says. "It makes me feel like I deserve the photographs a little more, knowing that I had to work hard to make them."

Without context, Greer's project seems innocuous enough. But just a few details reveal just how unsettling it really is.

"In May of 2010," Greer recalls, "one of these igloos containing 20,000 pounds of unstable materials suddenly exploded. Fortunately no one was injured, but the event seemed to spell out how deeply ironic and troubling our relationship to our own history can be."

*(The hatch? LOST? Anyone?)

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