Blog posts


Fracking exhibit opens 12/7

Some photos from my new project Fracking Pennsylvania are in an exhibit opening this week in New York City.

In Dimock, PA, Craig and Julie Sautner are among 14 families whose drinking water wells became contaminated after gas drilling on their properties. Here the Sautners drive by a new drilling rig on a neighbor’s property.

FRACKING: Art and Activism Against the Drill
An art exhibition and public dialogue about the ravages of natural gas drilling

Dates: December 7, 2010 - February 5, 2011
Opening Reception: Tuesday, December 7, 7-9pm

Exit Art
475 10th Avenue, at 36th Street
New York, NY 10018

Exit Art announces Fracking: Art and Activism Against the Drill. Hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) is a new means of gas extraction that is now beginning in New York and Pennsylvania. This exhibition will expose this process of gas extraction that is contaminating water supplies and polluting the air worldwide. Artists were invited to submit documentary videos, photography, paintings, sculpture, mixed media, and works of literature. Through public lectures and calls to action, this exhibition will engage the public in dialogue on this issue, and encourage audiences to continue educating themselves and their communities on fracking and its detrimental effects.

Organized by Lauren Rosati, Assistant Curator, with Peggy Cyphers, Ruth Hardinger, and Alice Zinnes.

Hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) is a means of gas extraction that accesses gas trapped more than a mile below the earth’s surface. When a well is fracked, small earthquakes are produced by the pressurized injection of millions of gallons of fresh water combined with sand and chemicals, releasing the gas, as well as toxic chemicals, heavy metals and radioactive materials that contaminate air and water.

Read more about the exhibit here.
See more of my photos here.


Nanotech story for the Washington Post

Last week I shot a story for the Washington Post about nanotech research at the University of Albany. It ran today. I particularly liked this portrait, which I shot from under the honeycomb tabletop where he was working.

Caption: ALBANY, NY - OCTOBER 26: Willie Murchison, IBM Senior Lab Technician, plans recipes for upcoming experiments at a laptop in the NanoFab North cleanroom at the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering. Researchers in the CNSE NanoTech Complex at the University of Albany-SUNY are developing new nanotechnology materials in an enormous 35,000 square-foot cleanroom. 2010. (Photo by Michael Forster Rothbart/For the Washington Post).
The light in a cleanroom is bizarre, so yellow that my camera could not compensate for it. So I put a flash on a stand to clean up the edges a bit and set my WB on Flash.

See the rest of the photo essay here.



skeletons in his closet

Got a skeleton in your closet? John Hawks does. His physical anthropology lab at the University of Wisconsin contains cupboards full of skulls and bones. These skeletal remains and reproductions used for teaching range in age from decades to millennia old.

Hawks, an associate professor of anthropology, has published genome research revealing that the rate of human evolution has increased over the last 10,000 years.

I shot this photo for Science Illustrated last time I was in Madison, but it didn't get used (they ran a portrait I shot instead).

Anyway, I just wanted to say



Out in the mountains

A group of backpackers, including Katie Peeso and Carolyn Rein, sing spiritual songs beside their campfire at Crane Mountain Pond, elevation 2620 feet, in Adirondack Park near Johnsburg, NY. The hikers are college students participating in the LIFT program, a semester-long discipleship and leadership training program operated by Camp-of-the-Woods, a Christian family resort and conference center in Speculator, NY.
This week I spent time up in the Adirondacks shooting the beautiful fall foliage. One night I ran into this group of Christian college students camping and singing up on Crane Mountain.

I have to thank Strobist for changing what I carry in my bag. In the past, I would not have hauled flashes and pocket wizards up such a seriously steep mountain, just in case. Today I do, and this photo is why.

Tech geek details:
Lens (mm): 20
ISO: 1250
Aperture: 4
Shutter: 1/60
White Bal.: Flash

1 Nikon SB-26 flash on a rock at right, with orange (1/2 CTO) gel, about 1/8 power, just skimming the smoke and background boulder.

What color temperature is a campfire, anyway? I shot some frames on Tungsten and the fire still looked orange but the fill flash light looked too neutral to match it.


Up the Delaware

Basket Creek flows into the Upper Delaware River near Long Eddy, NY. The Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River, part of the National Park Service’s Wild and Scenic Rivers System, stretches 73.4 miles along the New York – Pennsylvania border.
I spent time in northern Pennsylvania this week shooting a magazine story about fracking. (What is fracking?)

The upper Delaware River is a really beautiful place. Amazing how pristine it is considering how close it is to NYC and Philadelphia. I can understand why local residents are worried about plans for 35,000 natural gas wells along the river. (As of 2009 there were already over 77,000 gas wells in Pennsylvania, but none yet in the protected Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River area.)

Researchers have identified volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene, methane and xylene found in contaminated drinking water near drilling sites. Other environmental concerns include surface water contamination, air pollution, forest fragmentation, and human health problems. The 2005 Energy Policy Act exempted natural gas drilling from the Safe Drinking Water Act (plus some regulations of the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act), and exempts companies from disclosing the chemicals used during fracking.

On the other hand, gas companies and property owners stand to earn up to one trillion dollars in profits from drilling in the Marcellus Shale. And it's clear that these small towns need income, with nothing else but tourism to hold up the economy.

The article will be out in October and I'll post my full photo essay then.


Can you light your water on fire?

Bill Ely of Dimock, Pennsylvania can.

Bill and Sheila Ely are among 14 families near Carter Road in Dimock, PA, whose drinking water wells became contaminated with methane and other chemicals after gas drilling on their properties. Cabot Oil and Gas, the company held responsible by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, has had at least 21 spills in Dimock township in less than two years.
The Elys’ well has so much methane that the water appears carbonated and Bill regularly lights his water on fire to show visitors.

How does he do it? Bill takes a five gallon jug and fills it from his hose via a hole on the side. Extra water pours out overflow holes while the methane bubbles up to the top, up the tube, where he lights it like a giant lantern.

Here, the Elys' neighbor Craig Sautner tries to burn his water.

The Sautners have less methane in their water than the Elys, so Craig feels safe holding a lighter directly to his hose.

Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” is new method of drilling for natural gas: millions of gallons of water, sand and proprietary chemicals are pumped down a well under high pressure. The pressure fractures the shale, opening fissures so that natural gas can flow more freely. In August 2010, fracking is being widely used in the Marcellus Shale formation under Pennsylvania while New York is considering a temporary moratorium on the practice until the environmental effects can be reviewed.


Photos in Arena on Friday

You are all invited to this shindig on Friday. (By the way, this is not a fancy fundraiser, just come and see the show. Though donations to FOCCUS are welcome, they do great work!) Don't worry about RSVPing, just say I sent you.


summer camp

On the last night of Timberlake camp's July session, Jarod Wunneburger watches campers leave a candlelit closing ceremony. Timberlake, a summer camp for boys, is one of six of the Farm & Wilderness camps based on the Quaker values of simplicity, honesty, self-reliance, and respect for all life.
I have just returned from two weeks at a summer camp in Vermont. I've been photographing at the Farm & Wilderness camps in Plymouth, VT. My life is far from perfect, I admit, but I feel very fortunate to get to go to such great places.

It's amazing how quickly a group of boys and young men, living in the woods together, can form a real, intimate and supportive community. Coming home to my hectic daily life, I realize how much I long for such a strong community around me.

In case you're curious: Lit by candle. 1/60, F2.5 at 3200.


a picture from the exhibition

Photo: SLPS

Here is a photo from the show in Woodstock on Saturday. If you have not been to a Slideluck Potshow, I strongly encourage you to get off your hiney and find one:


Screening in Woodstock, NY on July 17

Photos from my After Chernobyl project will be screened this week in Woodstock:

July 17, 2010, 7 pm potluck, 9 pm show
Center for Photography at Woodstock
Street: 59 Tinker Street, Woodstock NY

More details here:


Screening in Barcelona July 1

Photos from my After Chernobyl project will be screened this week in Barcelona:

DONDE: Mau Mau Underground. Fontrodona, 35
CUANDO: Dijous, 1 de julio a les 20.30h.
El encuentro gastronómico empezará a las 20.30h y las proyecciones se podrán ver a partir de las 21.30h y terminarán alrededor de las 23h.

More details here:


Photo District News

Sorry to brag again. Just wanted to share that I have a collection of Chernobyl photos featured on the PDN website today:

Those of you who are not photographers may not be familiar with Photo District News. It's a monthly magazine for professional photographers, focused on contemporary photography and useful business info.

Ahem. Since I seem to have your attention for the moment, I'd like everyone to know: I’m pregnant. No, excuse me, I meant: I'm looking for a publisher for my Chernobyl book. Anyone, anyone?


Upper Catskills exhibit

A Ukrainian teenager passes a closed storefront covered with signs, including many offering jobs. High unemployment is a problem in many Ukrainian communities; the problem is especially acute in radiation-affected areas, which new businesses have avoided due to the stigma of Chernobyl.
My work is part of a new exhibit of Central New York artists at UCCCA, the Upper Catskill Community Council of the Arts. (Note "Central NY": what New Yorkers refer to as "upstate").

The exhibit runs until July 25. More details here.

At the exhibit opening they announced that my above photo won the first place award for photography. Very kind of them, since there is a lot of excellent work in the show.


another photo a day

I am flattered to have another photo of mine chosen for A Photo A Day. (Reading this later? Find the photo here, under June 14.)

APAD is a fabulous daily sampling of the best of contemporary photojournalism, direct from the photographers themselves. Since APAD does not include captions, here is more about the photo above:

Late on a long winter's night, Nina Dubrovskaya and her friend Lena Priyenko walk home to their village Sukachi, Ukraine, from the nearby town of Ivankiv, 2 miles away. The two women, both divorcees, went out to the bars in Ivankiv in search of company, but found all 4 bars they visited nearly empty. "When the money gets short, people just get drunk at home," says Dubrovskaya.


thinking of kyrgyzstan

Osh, Kyrgystan. A soldier at Osh City Military Base practices using his gun during an evening drill. There are long-standing political and ethnic differences between the northern and southern halves of this mountainous country, and the southern borders with neighboring Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have repeatedly been the scene of violent local conflicts since independence.
Once I've lived someplace I find I am always listening for news from there. Over the course of several assignments I spent 8 months in Jalal Abad and Osh, Kyrgyzstan. The news, unfortunately, is worse than I ever imagined.

For large part, Uzbeks and Kyrgyz have lived peacefully together. But as happened in the former Yugoslavia, it seems those with a political agenda have been inciting violence between neighbors. A Red Cross official today estimated 700 dead in Osh; if true that would make it worse than the 1990 riot in nearby Kara Suu that killed 300.

Even though it's hopeless, I feel a need to quote Rodney King here:

"People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along? Can we get along? Can we stop making it, making it horrible for the older people and the kids?... It’s just not right. It’s not right. It’s not, it’s not going to change anything. We’ll, we’ll get our justice....Please, we can get along here. We all can get along. I mean, we’re all stuck here for a while. Let’s try to work it out. Let’s try to beat it. Let’s try to beat it. Let’s try to work it out."

This footage of mob victims arriving at the hospital in carload after carload is very hard to watch.

(Note: the above video is emotionally disturbing but not graphic. More footage here, some of which is graphic: )


a photo a day

If you love photojournalism, you should check out APAD (a photo a day) and not just because they are featuring my photo today. (Reading this later? Find the photo here, under May 31.)

APAD is a fabulous daily sampling of the best of contemporary photojournalism, direct from the photographers themselves. Often the posted photos are ones that newspaper photogs shot for themselves, or ones that didn't make the paper.

If you really really love photojournalism (and are a photographer yourself) you can join the APAD listserv. Of course, I've hit nearly 30,000 messages now in my APAD email folder; it's hard to keep up with so prolific a crowd.

Since APAD does not include captions, here is more about the photo above:

A wall of dials in the Chernobyl First Block control room once marked the depth of each fuel rod in the reactor core. Just down the hall is the burnt-out Fourth Block control room, where a combination of design flaws and human error triggered the accident during a late-night safety test. Most estimates say ninety-five percent of the radioactive materials remained on the grounds of the power plant or spread to the adjacent forest. Both were decontaminated, using the labor of about 850,000 liquidators from across the Soviet Union.


getting my mo jo

This month Mother Jones magazine is featuring a nice photo essay on my Chernobyl project.

It is interesting to see what different photo editors pick as a lead image for the story. I like this photo as an introduction, the way it shows something out of the ordinary. What you can't tell from this shot is that the Semikhody checkpoint has a row of about 8 radiation detection gates. As workers come out to board one of the trains home, over 1,000 workers pass through these checkpoints in a short period of time.


Baltimore screening

Photos from my After Chernobyl project will be screened this weekend in Baltimore. The screening is part of Slideluck Potshow, an evening of eating beautiful food and viewing delicious art. Or something like that.

Here are details:

Baltimore — Saturday, May 22. 6-11 pm.

Gallery Four
H & H Building
405 West Franklin St. (at Eutaw), Baltimore
See map.

Slideluck: 6 pm (bring a dish!)
Potshow: 8 pm (bring your eyes!)
No RSVP needed.

Never heard of Slideluck Potshow? Read more — recent articles from the New Yorker, Pop Photo and NYTimes Lens.

Come feast!


NPR Picture Show

Yesterday NPR published a nice story featuring my new exhibit in DC. It was on the NPR Picture Show — if you haven't seen this site, take a look. They do a great job publishing all kinds of interesting photography stories.

Everyone's been so positive about my exhibit I am in danger of getting a swollen head.


Easter in Ivankiv

Residents of Ivankiv, Ukraine, attend a midnight Easter service at the Russian Orthodox church in town.

A woman makes the sign of the cross as she enters the church near midnight.

For two hours, attendees stand, pray, light candles and follow the traditional orthodox ceremony.

Lay leaders of the congregation make a circuit of the church at a midpoint in the midnight Easter service.

A girl waits outside the church for her family's Easter basket to be blessed with holy water.

After the mass, the priests come outside and make a circuit of the churchyard and adjoining street, showering hundreds of families with blessings and holy water.

Ivankiv is the closest inhabited city to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.


Books Alive!

Singer Lee Knight sings, dances and reads stories with kids from Oneonta, NY, on April 10, during Books Alive!, an interactive performance organized by the Oneonta World of Learning.

The Oneonta World of Learning, a “children’s museum without walls,” organizes educational events for children in the Oneonta area. For more information on OWL see their website or blog.

Update, May 2010:

Here are additional photos from the Books Alive event. Parents, feel free to download these photos for personal use, or you can contact OWL for many more photos.


kyrgyz revolution, again


Breaking news from Kyrygzstan: another revolution. But if you don't have any leaders to replace the ones you depose, how are things going to get any better?

More news here.

I followed Opposition leader Omurbek Tekebaev during earlier protests, when he was running for President in 2000.

I spent several weeks following Tekebaev, and at the time I was very impressed. He answered our questions openly and thoughtfully. I thought he was the first honest politician I had met in Central Asia.

Since then, as one revolution after another has flared up, replaced the people in power and then quickly returned to the status quo, I've grown pessimistic than any leader, even an honest one, would make any significant changes in how the country is governed.

In short, I'm sorry to say Kyrgyzstan has not improved much in 10 years.

But as I look at my old scans, I am pleased at least to see that I have improved as a photographer in the last 10 years.


Palm Springs Photo Fest

Sergii Koshelev has a unique job: cameraman for the Chernobyl Shelter Implementation Plan. He documents conditions within and around the destroyed 4th Block reactor. He recalls expeditions inside the Shelter as full of adrenalin and devoid of light. Though showered with radioactive particles, he was not scared, he says.

After facing danger, some men brag. Not Koshelev. He has faced extreme radiation for 20 years, yet remains modest about his work. “Chernobyl is in us and we are in Chernobyl,” he explains matter-of-factly.

At home, his feet get cold and he pulls on his wife’s Minnie Mouse slippers.
I was happy to hear this news today:

My After Chernobyl project is a finalist in the Palm Springs Photo Festival competition. A slideshow of my photos will be screened during the festival at the Palm Springs Art Museum. April 1, 9 pm, during the evening presentation.

Read more here.


zReportage: Chernobyl Today

I am pleased as punch to have my Chernobyl project featured in this week's zReportage, an online magazine of investigative photojournalism.

After quietly working on this project for years, I am delighted that more people are getting to see the work. There are so many important and bizarre and interesting stories to tell about the Ukrainians who continue to live near Chernobyl.

If you saw my 2009 After Chernobyl exhibit, you'll find 20 new photos in this story.

In addition: Zuma Press will now start to sell my Chernobyl (and other) stock photography.

Thanks for all the good words, everyone!


Chernobyl tourists

Tourists photograph the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, the site of the world's worst nuclear accident, on March 1. On the night of April 26, 1986, the Fourth Block reactor (visible at center) exploded during a safety test, sending radioactive particles into the atmosphere and eventually around the world. The population within 30 kilometers was permanently evacuated, including residents of Pripyat city and many villages.
As spring comes, the snow melts and the tourists start flowing into Chernobyl. The flow will peak in late April, the anniversary of the accident.

I find it bizarre that Chernobyl is now Ukraine's hottest tourist attraction. It seems almost every day a different van or busload of tourists pull up outside the Fourth Block with their cameras and gas masks while the workers are just sitting around smoking their cigarettes.

This day-long tour was organized by, a historic preservationist group founded by evacuees from Pripyat, working to save their hometown from ruin before looters and weather destroy what remains.


Voices from Chernobyl

Contamination checkpoint at the Chernobyl plant. At the end of the day, workers check their hands and feet for radioactive contamination one last time before boarding the train home.
My Chernobyl photos will be screened tomorrow night (Feb. 21) at the Montshire Museum of Science, in Norwich, Vermont.

Sunday's event is a reading of the play Voices from Chernobyl, based on the powerful book of reportage by Svetlana Alexievich.

Alexievich, a journalist from Belarus, spent years interviewing Chernobyl evacuees, liquidators (veterans) and scientists. She weaved together an incredible collection of first-person stories. If you are interested in Chernobyl, or nuclear power in general, this is the first book to read. I recommend the 2006 English translation by Keith Gessen.

The play is part of the noisy debate Vermont is having about the future of nuclear power in the state. The Vermont Legislature will vote next week to either relicense or decommission the 40-year-old Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant near Brattleboro, VT. In the past two months, there have been revelations that radioactive tritium has leaked underground below the plant.

The Sunday event starts at 7 pm at One Montshire Road, in Norwich. More details here.


A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again

Last night I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge in the blizzard. Slowly. With my camera. It was, how shall I put it, a little bit on the chilly side. What amazes me, however, is that I was not the only one out there in the gale. There were joggers and pedestrians and other photographers. All of us nuts, every one.

A solitary hardy pedestrian crosses the Brooklyn Bridge despite blustery winds and icy blowing snow. By sunset on Feb. 10, 2010, 7 inches had fallen in Manhattan, although this was enough to slow transportation across the region.

Street crews were working overtime to keep roads clear, with snowplows working on the Brooklyn Bridge 3 at a time.

Pace University freshman, including Twinkle Vakharia, center, play in the snow at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge in Manhattan, before returning to their dorm for hot chocolate.


Snow Day in NYC

Today New York City took the day off. Except the photographers.

The streets were filled with snow — and sledders and shovelers — as the city celebrated a snow day on Feb. 10 with a rare school closing.

Two girls duck under a bridge out of the snow as they take a break from sledding in Riverside Park in Manhattan.

Sledders of all ages filled the hills in Riverside Park.

A man pushes a stroller through the snow across 78th St. in Manhattan's Upper West side.

Alistair Stewart waits to cross Amsterdam Ave. in the snow.

A street sign at 77th St. and Broadway is barely visible beneath the snow.

The snowfall was heavy at times, although accumulation was less than the predicted 12 to 18 inches; by 4 pm, 7 inches had fallen in Manhattan.

Liam Emerson, age 2, tries to help shovel the snow at the 72nd St. subway station.

And now I've warmed up and I'm headed back out for more.

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