"Petrochemical America" features Richard Misrach's haunting photographic record of Louisiana's Chemical Corridor, accompanied by landscape architect Kate Orff's Ecological Atlas--a series of "speculative drawings" developed through research and mapping of data from the region. Their joint effort depicts and unpacks the complex cultural, physical and economic ecologies along 150 miles of the Mississippi River, from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, an area of intense chemical production that first garnered public attention as "Cancer Alley" when unusual occurrences of cancer were discovered in the region. This collaboration has resulted in an unprecedented, multilayered document presenting a unique narrative of visual information. "Petrochemical America" offers in-depth analysis of the causes of decades of environmental abuse along the largest river system in North America. Even more critically, the project offers an extensively researched guidebook to the way in which the petrochemical industry has permeated every facet of contemporary life. What is revealed over the course of the book, however, is that Cancer Alley--although complicated by its own regional histories and particularities--may well be an apt metaphor for the global impact of petrochemicals on the human landscape as a whole.
Richard Misrach (born 1949) has a longstanding association with the American south. His previous monograph, "Destroy This Memory," offered a record of hurricane-inspired graffiti left on houses and cars in New Orleans in the wake of Katrina. "On the Beach" and "Violent Legacies" addressed contamination of desert and beach areas.
Kate Orff (born 1971) is an assistant professor at Columbia University and founder of SCAPE, a landscape architecture studio in Manhattan. Her work weaves together sustainable development, design for biodiversity and community-based change. Orff's recent exhibition at MoMA, "Oyster-tecture," imagined the future of the polluted Gowanus Canal as part of a ground-up community process and an ecologically revitalized New York harbor.