Daniel Shea

Sludge or “slurry” is the liquid byproduct from the coal cleaning process.It is stored in underground injections and above-ground massive ponds, like the one seen here.

Coal. The most dangerous fossil fuel we burn for energy. And the most prevalent source of energy domestically here in the United States. It is a dirty, toxic, and destructive substance to both extract and turn into usable energy. One of the most destructive methods of extraction is called surface , prevalent in the Appalachian mountains, where the tops of mountains are literally sliced off in order to access the coal underneath. In addition to destroying the habitat of countless numbers of species that live and rely on it for food, water, and thus survival, the resulting waste from this type of extraction is then dumped into nearby bodies of water. Some rests in newly formed sludge ponds at the crater in the mountain’s peak, other waste quickly travels from nearby streams and rivers into bays, gulfs, and the ocean, contaminating everything in it’s path including drinking water, and adding to the growing dead zones currently surrounding coastal regions. The destroyed land can not be reclaimed, as the topsoil required for fertile pasture is poisoned and doesn’t return to its original state.

The mountaintop removal site on Kayford Mountain near Charleston, W. Va. was nicknamed "Hell's Gate" by local resident and anti-mountaintop removal activist Larry Gibson.
The mountaintop removal site on Kayford Mountain near Charleston, W. Va. was nicknamed “Hell’s Gate” by local resident and anti-mountaintop removal activist Larry Gibson.

This violently destructive method of mining was the subject of a major body of work by photographer Daniel Shea. As revealed in his artist statement, “What started as an interest in the modern coal mining process known as mountaintop removal quickly evolved into an extensive study of the social/political institutions surrounding these practices. Above all else, I became interested in surveying the cultural implications of extracting coal from Appalachian Mountains. What I found over the course of the trip was that these coal mining operations had rapidly developed into one of the most destructive and pervasive forms of modern industry in the world.”

When you’re standing in front of a young man 3 years younger than you that has started a life long career in underground coal mines, perspective comes easily. I spent an afternoon at a local Dairy Queen talking to people that were willing to donate a few minutes. Coincidentally I met 3 underground miners, all of whom were new to the job, and all 19 years of age. William Pettry, pictured here, talked to me at the end of his first day underground. He told me he thinks he’ll like the job, and that it pays pretty well.

The rest can be seen in Shea’s quiet, unobtrusive, and patiently taken photographs over a period of three months, resulting in the series aptly titled “Removing Mountains.” The images include landscapes showing surface mining’s physical distress on the land, as well as a glimpse into the neighboring towns, citizens and workers, and general Appalachian culture that both surrounds the practice and is inherently affected by it. To view more of Shea’s work please visit his website by clicking here.


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One Response to “Daniel Shea”

  1. Interview with Daniel Shea « Photography for a Greener Planet Says:

    […] topics. I specifically focused on a project titled “Removing Mountains” (click here to read older post), where Shea spent 3 months in Appalachia documenting an extremely destructive […]

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