Appalachia, Virginia is mainly known for two reasons. The first is that it’s an incredibly resource-rich territory; it supplies two-thirds of the nation’s coal reserves. Coal is an outdated energy source, which is damaging to the environment as it’s slowly being phased throughout the whole world in favor of greener, cleaner options. For the locals in Appalachia, however, it has a sentimental value; for them coal equals jobs. The second reason is for being one of the poorest regions of North America.
Alan Gignoux’s long-term project Appalachia: From Mountaintops to Moonscapes features photography and interviews with local residents attempting to gain understanding into what effect the new technique for acquiring coal (blasting off mountaintops in order to get to the resources more quickly) has on the area and the local community.
Gignoux started the project back in 2012 and it’s a rich, detailed exploration. It argues that mountaintop removal, the now-favored technique used to blast 400-600ft from the top of the mountain, has a devastating impact on an already damaged community suffering from poverty and opioid addiction. Not only has it taken away employment from the local towns but it’s also exacerbated an already existing pollution-driven health crisis. On top of this, it destroys the landscape and depletes the natural habitat.
The body of work is now on the cusp of its tenth anniversary and it gives the locals a chance to voice their concerns with recent developments. It documents the human side of the story by photographing the residents and also asking them about their opinion on the matter. What has Appalachia turned into? How did it get there? What does the future hold? Nobody can know for sure but the people interviewed surely offer us their opinions. Gignoux has also made a documentary film that has been shown internationally.
The images show a remote town in the midsts of trees and mountains, a serene, picturesque scene, but one that appears to be plagued by unemployment, poverty and health issues.
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