Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Documenting Shale Pittsburgh Filmmakers Exhibits a Visual Conversation on the Impact of Marcellus Shale Drilling

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Documenting Shale Pittsburgh Filmmakers Exhibits a Visual Conversation on the Impact of Marcellus Shale Drilling

Article excerpt

Gas drilling in Pennsylvania has become a contentious issue that pits perceived winners against losers. A half-dozen accomplished photographers felt the discussion was more nuanced, and they spread out across the state to record the effects of this rapidly expanding industry upon families and communities.

The "Marcellus Shale Documentary Project" is the result, comprising a significant book and website, and an exceptional exhibition at Pittsburgh Filmmakers Galleries, where a free public forum will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday.

When London-born Pittsburgh-based project photographer Brian Cohen began to consider documenting Marcellus Shale activity, it "very, very quickly became apparent it wasn't something one person could cover adequately," he said. He approached Laura Domencic, director of the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, with his idea in February 2011, and the organization quickly saw its worth.

"The subject resonates nationally," Ms. Domencic said, "and how it can change the region is so important. The documentary style and artist participation are right up our alley. Besides documentation, the project's about helping to facilitate a meaningful conversation within the community instead of sound bites."

They applied for and received a Sprout Fund Seed Award, and additional funding followed.

Other participating photographers are Noah Addis, Nina Berman, Scott Goldsmith, Lynn Johnson and Martha Rial, a stellar cast of regularly exhibited and published veterans. Among them are a Pulitzer Prize winner, a Whitney Museum of American Art exhibitor, a National Academy of Science honoree and an Open Society Institute Documentary Fund awardee. Their imagery has appeared in venues as diverse as National Geographic, The Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, the Wall Street Journal, CNN, the BBC and Life's Year in Pictures.

The team determined to cover as much ground as possible, both geographically and aesthetically, Mr. Cohen said. "Collectively, it's the vision of the project," but "everyone has his or her own eye ... own approach ... own point of entry."

Imagery ranges from Ms. Rial's breathtaking aerial view of undulating tree-covered hills interrupted exclusively by rectangular drilling platforms, to Ms. Berman's eyebrow-raising EOG Cabot Oil and Gas Community picnickers walking by a Halliburton barbecue pit. Some are incontestably from the fine art realm, such as Mr. Addis' sensitive oversized portraits of shale region residents, while others follow photojournalistic tradition, like Ms. Johnson's intimate image of a trailer park resident, evicted to make way for a water extraction plant, being comforted by her cats. Mr. Cohen found a positive story in Bob Miller, whose gas drilling lease allowed his family to keep their farm running. In contrast, Mr. Goldsmith's book cover photograph of the Hallowich family, allegedly driven from their home due to air and water contamination caused by the gas companies, creates a 21st-century "American Gothic."

"People are the center of this story even if there are no people in many of the pictures," Mr. Cohen said.

The photographers attempted to represent the complexity of drilling, reflected in their appreciation expressed to a variety of consultants including professors, industry experts, medical professionals and clergy. …

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