Photographs and text by Mitch Epstein.
Steidl Photography International, 2009. 144 pp., 64 color illustrations, 11½x10½".
Mitch Epstein’s latest project tackles one of the most
loaded issues on the nation’s agenda: what and who
powers America? Between 2003 and 2008, prompted
by the evacuation of an environmentally contaminated
Ohio town, Epstein traveled the United States to
document the country’s energy “hot spots,” where
fossil fuel, nuclear, hydroelectric, wind and solar power
are produced, encountering further contaminations,
Homeland Security obstacles, corporate invincibility
and the occasional token of hope. In a post-Katrina
and post-Patriot Act America, the angle of engagement
permitted Epstein often varied, so that many
of the power plants and refineries were shot from
an enforced distance (“If you were Muslim, you'd be
cuffed and taken in for questioning,” he quotes an
F.B.I. agent inWest Virginia telling him). Alongside
these classic depictions of looming, obdurate power,
Epstein includes more idiomatic images—a woman
wading in the water above Niagara Falls, father and
son motorcross bikers, a tree cluttered with debris—
which bring the issues back down to human scale.
Epstein tells in an accompanying essay how these
experiences deepened his political convictions, and led
him to think harder about the artist’s role in a country
teetering between collapse and transformation. Here
is his portrait of early twenty-first-century America,
as it clings to past comforts and gropes for a more
sensible and sustainable future.
Read Antone Dolezal's review of American Power in photo-eye Magazine.