Cantor Arts Center opens Revisiting the South: Richard Misrach’s Cancer Alley

Cantor Arts Center presents Revisiting the South: Richard Misrach’s Cancer Alley on view from March 27 to June 16, 2013. The includes 19 large-scale color photographs and 14 contact sheets.

Richard Misrach
Richard Misrach, Swamp and Pipeline, Geismar, Louisiana, negative 1998, print 2012. Inkjet print. High Museum of Art, Atlanta © 2012 Richard Misrach

Like the Western landscapes for which Misrach is best known, these photographs challenge viewers with environmental, political and social concerns while engaging them with evocative and lyrically beautiful large-scale prints. In focusing on the delicate state of the Mississippi River, Misrach signals not just the environmental challenges facing the South but also the larger costs of our modern world at the dawn of the 21st century.

This series of photographs was originally commissioned in 1998 by the High Museum of Art in Atlanta as part of the High Museum’s Picturing the South series. This exhibition marks the culmination and publication of this body of work in 2012, more than a decade after the project was initiated.

Through this series, Misrach presents a stark social commentary about the concentration of petrochemical complexes located along this 100-mile stretch of the Mississippi River. Misrach’s portrayals of this once pristine riverine corridor, now known as Cancer Alley, document the far-reaching and ongoing devastation generated by more than 140 industrial plants: eroded ecological systems and the economic deprivation of local, and mostly poor African-American, communities. At the same time, the images engage the viewer with serene pastoral scenes, meandering watercourses and misty marshlands. But his images do more than hint at pollution and death: The petrochemical industry reveals itself as an omnipresent and brazen specter through the photographs’ rusted pipelines, mammoth tankers and tangles of steel, concrete and smokestacks belching noxious fumes and toxins into the air and water. Looking through Misrach’s lens, the viewer comes to realize that Cancer Alley’s industrial corridor—which produces almost one-third of America’s gasoline, plastics and other chemicals—is generating a lethal combination of pollutants that is quietly deteriorating local communities and watersheds, leaving behind only cryptic relics of what was once a richly diversified past.

The exhibition is accompanied by a new publication from Aperture Foundation entitled Petrochemical America, which features Richard Misrach’s photographs of Cancer Alley, accompanied by landscape architect Kate Orff’s “Ecological Atlas”—a series of drawings developed through research and mapped data from the region. Their joint effort offers creative scenarios of how the area could be repurposed and its social and environmental health restored.

Richard Misrach will speak about his work on view in the exhibition on Monday, May 13, at 6 pm, in Annenberg Auditorium, Cummings Art Building on the Stanford campus.

The exhibition is organized by the High Museum of Art, Atlanta. The exhibition’s presentation at Stanford is made possible by the Clumeck Fund, the Contemporary Collectors Circle and Cantor Arts Center Members.