Afterimages have a transgressive quality. They appear most strikingly when we use our eyes in ways that we shouldn’t—by staring at something too bright or holding our gaze for too long. When I moved to Louisiana, I was struck by the appearance of oil refineries at night; they looked like strange forbidden cities starting fires in the sky. Soon after I began to document them, I was stopped by local police and told that I was not allowed to photograph these structures according to post-9/11 regulations. Keeping a low profile, I undertook a long-term project documenting petrochemical refineries in the Gulf South with my afterimaging cameras. I set out to render the man-made landscape of the fossil fuel industry as ghostly and vanishing, an unearthly forbidden city that should be perceived as a relic of our destructive past.
The initial research for my work with afterimaging began over a decade ago and involved mapping my own retina and incorporating that information into the production of an artificial retinal membrane. Utilizing a custom-built camera, I capture an image onto this membrane, which is made of light-sensitive strontium aluminate. Because these photoluminescent particles decay over time, they immediately begin to shift in color. In order to capture the degraded image before it dissipates, I expose the retinal membrane onto a sheet of large-format color film while allowing for movement and variation of time during this development to produce a variety of visual results.
Recently, I began to combine many pieces of large-format film into expansive panoramas. This cumulative process allows me to give a better sense of the dominance these refineries have on the landscape and environment in our region. In the fall of 2020, I undertook a river expedition with a small crew in a wooden voyager-style canoe to create afterimages of Cancer Alley. We paddled all day amidst massive freighters, set up camp before the sun went down, and took the canoe back out in the dark to photograph the refineries from the river each night. The resulting imagery elicits the sublime in order to bring the magnitude of this corporate environmental destruction to the forefront of our awareness. Once completed, Gaslight River will serve as a record of the entirety of the fossil fuel industry on the Mississippi River in Cancer Alley, as an afterimage scroll, captured from the perspective of the River.
This is the first outdoor site-specific iteration of a portion ofGaslight River. It was on view as a satellite project for Proppect.5 from late 2021 to early 2022. It was installed in a highly trafficked area on the St. Claude neutral ground, accessible to those on foot, in their vehicles, and through online interactions via QRcodes.
Documentation of still afterimage photographs combined to create a moving scroll.