Philadelphia Photographers

Eastwick: Photographing a Superfund Site Using a Pinhole Camera Made of Garbage

I maintain a fine arts practice in addition to my commercial photography studio. This work is a continuation of a project I have posted about before entitled ‘The Waste Stream‘. 

Each image was photographed at a former industrial site that has been repurposed for non-industrial usage by humans. Each image is made using a site-specific pinhole lens constructed using a piece of consumer waste I found at that location. The choice to make photographs of former industrial sites with consumer waste references the personal relationship consumers have with land commodification and land use. By using site-specific objects as the lenses with which these images are produced, human involvement with the landscape is directly responsible for the physical works. Without this human impact, the images themselves would not exist. Additionally, the pinhole process presents a defined visual layer for the viewer to consider.

The first grouping was photographed at a “Blue Hole” in the Pine Barrens of southern New Jersey. “Blue Hole” is a local term for very old flooded sand or gravel mining quarries; they often date back to the 18th century. Bottoms lined with dangerous industrial waste, today these bodies of water have become popular swim holes and party spots for locals.

These particular images were made in Eastwick, a Philadelphia neighborhood built largely on and around a former municipal landfill. Selected in the 1950s for a large urban renewal project, construction was halted in the 1970s with only 30% of the planned houses having been built. The residents who bought these homes were unaware of the site’s former use; many got sick in the following decades. The EPA determined that much of the soil and groundwater around their properties had elevated levels of hazardous chemicals. The site was added to the Superfund National Priorities List (a list of the most highly polluted Superfund sites) in 2001, and is currently undergoing remediation.

-Matt