The Aftermath Project has awarded me the 2016 grant to produce a new body of work Acknowledgment of Danger which will investigate the environmental legacy of the American military and the war economy on the American landscape.
I’ve been researching the subject for years and now thanks to Sara Terry , the Aftermath Project founder and to the 2016 judges, I can begin.
From my proposal:
Vietnam, 1987, was the first time I saw the effects of war; conjoined twins were lying on a bed, their bodies connected at the waist. In utero, they had absorbed dioxin, also called “agent orange”. In the photograph I made that day, one child holds a nurse’s hand, the other fingers a cash bill offered in meek apology by a visiting U.S. war veteran.
The twins lived the pain of war even though they hadn’t yet been born when the US introduced environmental destruction as a war tactic. Defoliate the landscape, and the enemy would have no place to hide. It was a chemical version of the old “smoke ’em out” strategy.
War is the dirtiest business in the world and the United States is the planet’s most prolific and chronic polluter.
Decades and generations after armed conflict ends, civilian populations live amid war’s residue. Rarely is the American military held accountable. It dumps, it discharges and returns home, leaving someone else -‐ from the Philippines to Iraq, from Vieques to Okinawa-‐ to clean up the mess.
The situation within the United States is much the same. We live in a constant state of war’s aftermath with vast stretches of the American landscape contaminated by the business of war and armed aggression: unexploded ordnance, toxic chemicals, depleted uranium, radioactive particles, a filthy legacy stretching from World War II to contemporary wars of democracy.
Scratch a cancer cluster or dive into a superfund site and the likelihood is that the US military played a role. Some of the history is known -‐ the down winders in the atomic west for example -‐ but a great deal more is obscured, covered up, artfully redefined, with the lasting impacts of environmental pollution rarely connected to armed conflict and the American war economy.
With the Aftermath grant, I will document the toxic legacy of war on the American landscape.
I’ll be posting pictures along the way, beginning in New Jersey and the Passaic River, which is contaminated with dioxin as a result of agent orange production for the Vietnam War.