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Petrochemical America

RUTH SLAVID, Photography: © Richard Misrach, courtesy of Pace/Macgill gallery, New York; Fraenkel gallery, San Francisco; and Marc Selwyn gallery, Los Angeles
Petrochemical America, written by Kate Orff with photographs by Richard Misrach, is an investigation of the landscape of ‘Cancer Alley’, a 150-mile-long strip of land alongside the Mississippi River that is home to much of the US’s heavy industry. Orff has created overlays for the photos which show history, plans and the context of industrial processes or lost biodiversity. She calls the process ‘unpacking’ and has said in an interview that it is ‘something that I had been independently exploring on several levels in the office — how to reveal complexity of environmental systems and stories embedded in the landscape’. The book analyses the way that petrochemicals have permeated every aspect of life in contemporary America. Orff explained that with landscapes that have been polluted to this extent, individual efforts at cleaning up particular sites will have a limited impact. ‘ So rather than focus on design concepts for individual places,’ she said, ‘ we set our sights on analysing the networks and systems of culture and production that have formed the landscape of the lower Mississippi corridor over the last fifty to sixty years.’ The book combines this research and discussion with the strangely haunting beauty of one of the most toxic landscapes in the developed world. The book is published by Aperture and costs £50.

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