NPR logo Smokestacks And Ghost Towns: The Curse Of Coal

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.

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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