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Between Transformation And Collapse: Mitch Epstein Sheds Light On The Consequences Of Powering America

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Renowned American photographer Mitch Epstein considers our cultural relationship to energy production through a visually engaging reflection on the choices of our society. His celebrated series and print publication American Power investigates notions of power, exposing the struggles and successes that come with it. The expressive images examine how energy is produced and used in the American landscape, as well as its influence on the lives of Americans.

In the series, America is positioned as one of the most energy-profligate and progress-hungry nations on the planet. The captivating collection of images throws light upon its consumerist society, drawing attention to questions of government and corporate dominance as well as ethical decay. An explicit response to the American Dream gone awry, the powerful photographs portray a 21st century America between transformation and collapse. Epstein devoted five years to the project: traveling from state to state, he photographed different landscapes with centers of energy production, from hydroelectric dams and oil refineries, to wind turbines and solar panels. The energy industry, while necessary to the progress and well-being of society, is shown to be not only omnipresent, but to intervene in society with dramatic impact on both nature and humanity. Characterized by Epstein’s signature style, rigor, and attention to detail, American Power investigates the complicated relationship between these sites and the communities living in their shadows, thereby addressing the environmental implication of power production and consumption across the United States.

A sense of imminent danger is palpable under the surface of the haunting photographs. The themes within the images are hard for the viewer to dismiss, exposing the wrongs of our contemporary society: from the staining of ecology to the agonies of contamination. Yet, American Power is not meant to be moralistic; it is fundamentally documentarian. In many ways, it is an eye-opening provocation; a subtle request to engage a larger public conversation—it asks viewers to consider not only the landscapes they and generations before them have created, but to take responsibility for them as well. American Power was published as a book by Steidl in 2009. For more information or to purchase a copy, click here.

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Mitch Epstein, Poca High School and Amos Coal Power Plant, West Virginia 2004. Courtesy of Galerie Thomas Zander, Köln.

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Mitch Epstein, Amos Coal Power Plant, Raymond City, West Virginia 2004. Courtesy of Galerie Thomas Zander, Köln.

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Mitch Epstein, Midland, Texas 2005. Courtesy of Galerie Thomas Zander, Köln.

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Mitch Epstein, Biloxi, Mississippi 2005. Courtesy of Galerie Thomas Zander, Köln.

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Mitch Epstein, Martha Murphy and Charlie Biggs, Pass Christian, Mississippi 2005. Courtesy of Galerie Thomas Zander, Köln.

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Mitch Epstein, PNew Orleans Museum of Art, Louisiana II 2005. Courtesy of Galerie Thomas Zander, Köln.

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Mitch Epstein, PChalmette Oil Refinery, New Orleans Louisiana II 2007. Courtesy of Galerie Thomas Zander, Köln.

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Mitch Epstein, Hanford Nuclear Reservation, Washington 2006. Courtesy of Galerie Thomas Zander, Köln.

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Mitch Epstein, Iowa 80 Truckstop, Walcott, Iowa 2008. Courtesy of Galerie Thomas Zander, Köln.

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Mitch Epstein, Chester Lowrey with Tesla Coil, Hawaii 2008. Courtesy of Galerie Thomas Zander, Köln.

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Mitch Epstein, BP Carson Refinery, California 2007. Courtesy of Galerie Thomas Zander, Köln.

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Mitch Epstein, Hoover Dam and Lake Mead, Nevada/Arizona 2007. Courtesy of Galerie Thomas Zander, Köln.

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Mitch Epstein, Omaha, Nebraska 2008. Courtesy of Galerie Thomas Zander, Köln.

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Mitch Epstein, Century Wind Project, Blairsburg, Iowa 2008. Courtesy of Galerie Thomas Zander, Köln.