This project examines the consequences of greed and neglect in relation to both the loss of vital wetlands in the lower coastal parishes of Louisiana and the health of people living in close proximity to oil refineries along the Mississippi River. The foremost factor compromising the welfare of these regions and their citizens remains our insatiable demand for petroleum products and the irresponsible methods by which that demand is satisfied.
My intention is to visually document those specific communities – both the residents and the particular geographic spaces they occupy – that are at the greatest risk. Most of the affected areas are populated by minorities – Native American, African American and descendants of the Isleños from the Canary Islands near Spain. Along with the destruction to their homelands, I am also photographing the cultural practices and rituals that are of vital importance to these inhabitants and inform the desires of many to remain on doomed parcels.
The history of land degradation that has occurred in service to the petroleum industry is staggering. Unregulated dredging of canals for natural gas pipelines near coastal zones has compromised the integrity of the surrounding geology to the point of creating lakes out of former land mass. There are other factors as well – the levees and the ways they’ve changed the course of the Mississippi have had a profound impact on wetlands loss. The now-decommissioned Mississippi River Gulf Outlet was instrumental in exacerbating the flooding that destroyed much of Saint Bernard Parish and the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.
The explosion of the Deepwater Horizon in April 2010 and the resulting oil spill added further distress to the lives of a significant portion of Louisiana residents, damaging wetland areas vital to the fishing industries and destroying livelihoods and the cultural fabric of many communities. Those who make their living along the Gulf Coast were the immediate and hardest hit victims of this tragedy but ultimately we are all affected; my goal in doing this work is to expand the dialog regarding our dependence on oil.
Fifty year ago, Isle de Jean Charles (Terrebonne Parish) and Delacroix (Saint Bernard Parish) were surrounded by freshwater wetlands that supported the wild game and fisheries the residents relied upon for sustenance. Equally important, those wetlands served the vital function of protecting the land from storm surge and resulting erosion. These wetlands were destroyed as the result of the gas and oil industries exploiting the rich store of natural resources in the Gulf waters. As canals were dredged and pipelines installed, the disruption to the underlying structure of the earth allowed for the intrusion of salt water at an alarming rate.
Once both six miles wide, Delacroix and Isle de Jean Charles each now stretches a quarter mile across. Most of the trees are gone and there is little left to buffer these areas from a major storm’s impact. Still, those remaining are willing to chance it; while ruination of their homes is all but inevitable, their histories and their hearts are tied to these ancestral lands. The residents of Isle de Jean Charles were recently named the first “climate refugees” when, after exhaustive negotiations with various state agencies, an agreement was reached that would relocate residents of the island to a large and protected parcel further inland. But the move is now in limbo as many tribal members are claiming bad faith on the part of the state.
In many instances, the communities I am focusing on have been so jeopardized that demise is all but inevitable. What is the value of honoring this loss and how might attention to the privation of former homelands be of interest to future generations?
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Terri Garland is an artist whose early work was spent documenting the social fabric of the American South with an emphasis on examining white supremacist culture. Following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, she undertook long-term projects in Mississippi and Louisiana, investigating the nature of power and powerlessness and greed and neglect. New work focuses on gun violence. She received her BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1987 and her MFA in 1990. She teaches photography in San Jose, CA.
Her photographs are included in the collections of The Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, Arizona, The Art Institute of Chicago, The di Rosa Preserve in Napa, California, The Cleveland Museum of Art, Saint Elizabeth College in Morristown, New Jersey, the Bibliotech Nationale, Paris, France and Special Collections at the University of California at Santa Cruz.
Among her awards are a WESTAF/NEA Fellowship, a Silicon Valley Arts Council Grant, a Rydell Visual Arts Fellowship and a grant from the Gulf Coast Fund that was used to teach photography to children during the summer of 2013 in the primarily Native American communities of Isle de Jean Charles and Pointe-au-Chien, LA.
She also makes artist books, occasional assemblages, and frequent messes.
Her website is www.terrigarland.com and she can be reached at email@example.com
All images ©Terri Garland