Shale Play is a series of documentary poems and photographs exploring the people and places affected by the Marcellus Shale gas boom in Pennsylvania. Created in collaboration with poet Julia Spicher Kasdorf, the project encompasses multiple counties across the Commonwealth and considers a broad range of stakeholders with diverse and frequently divisive experiences and perspectives on gas development that materialize as political, social, economic and physical divisions. The poems and photographs feature those who work in the gas industry and those who work against it, those who benefit from drilling and those who suffer its effects, those who advocate for drilling, and those who refuse to favor short-term gain over long-term cost. Within this context always is the land itself, now (as before) voraciously mined by multiple entities for its subterranean wealth.
Traversing both physical landscapes and psychological terrain, the images narrate the conflict of communities and towns caught between highly charged views on the need for jobs, energy independence and rural economic health, and the necessity to actively protect the natural environment from industrial intrusion and degradation.
Ultimately, these photographs offer what can only be a partial view of an entangled reality, much of which is not visibly accessible and remains hard to discern and difficult to photograph – hidden underfoot, or behind no-trespassing signs, in farmland not lost to repossession, or afloat in waterways, leached into wells, interred below ground or in gaseous form invisible to the naked eye. While much remains beyond the camera’s purview, the topic is far too critical to leave out of sight or closed to public dialogue and oversight. Photographs ask us to look. These photographs invite the viewer to look closely, to notice and think about what’s pictured and what’s not, what’s gained and what’s lost, what came before and what comes next.
At this critical historical juncture, close and careful looking appears all the more essential.