This article appears in VICE Magazine's Means of Production issue. Conceived of pre-COVID-19 and constructed during it, it explores the organization and ownership of our world.
These photographs are from industrial sites and postindustrial landscapes in the hills of northern Appalachia and the flatlands of the Midwest, and they highlight structures representative and symbolic of the history and reality of labor and class. The means of production in this region have never been in the hands of the workers; it’s the mill and mine owners, alongside the bankers who funded them, who have their names on our public buildings and private institutions.
These monuments—paid for by these “titans of industry” and/or their equally powerful friends—rarely take into account the collective labor and sacrifice provided by generations of families. Much of my personal and commissioned work revolves around these ideas and places. Labor struggle and class disparity are deeply woven into the history of this region. The effects are seen clearly on the surface of the landscape—the history is present and continues to shape our future. I keep this in mind in my work, whether I’m photographing for myself or on assignment.
In recent years I have become interested in ideas of monumentality—primarily by whom and for what purposes monuments are erected. These questions have become increasingly apparent in my work and the choice of subjects or objects I turn my attention toward. This collection stems from some of those questions. Utilizing photography, a vastly more democratic medium than bronze castings or stone engraving, I am able to document the forms and structures inherent in the ephemeral nature of production. In this pursuit I attempt humbly to create, perhaps with equal ephemerality, respectful monuments to those whose namesakes and memories will not likely embellish a university or a bridge, or ever be a marker of a decaying town where the factories and mines left long ago.
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