21 December 2021 | 5 minutes.

Bruised lands

Mountaintops to Moonscapes. Mountaintop Removal Mining, Wise County, Virginia, 2012.

Photo: Alan Gignoux.

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Alan Gignoux
Photographer
Jenny Christensson
Independent Curator specialising in Contemporary Art and Photography

Alan Gignoux, Photographer

Jenny Christensson, Independent Curator specialising in Contemporary Art and Photography

Bruised Lands brings together four unique yet interconnected bodies of work by documentary photographer Alan Gignoux: Oil Sands, Monuments, Appalachia, and Russian Rust Belt. Focusing on four locations across Canada, Europe, the US, and Russia, the photographic series document the harvesting of natural resources, and the impact these processes are having on the surrounding environment.

Alan Gignoux has been investigating and documenting the impacts of fossil fuels extraction and metals mining and refining on local communities for the past ten years. His photographs record the way in which local landscapes have been permanently altered to make way for mining, scarred by the infrastructure of the mining industry, and poisoned by pollution of the air, soil, and water. To avoid the catastrophic effects of global warming, all nations will need to work towards a low carbon future by drastically reducing their dependence on fossil fuels and protecting and restoring nature on an unprecedented scale. The window within which we have the possibility of averting climate disaster is closing and we are at a critical moment on which the future of the planet depends. In the words of one of Gignoux’s interviewees, Mike Hudema at Greenpeace in Canada: “The stakes could not be higher in this battle.”

Mountaintops to Moonscapes. Mountaintop Removal Mining, Wise County, Virginia, 2012. The mountaintop removal mining process used for coal extraction in the Appalachian region has been described as “strip mining on steroids.” With this process, each mountain is cleared of all vegetation and explosives are used to take as much as 800 feet off the top of the mountain to expose the coal seams beneath.
Oil Sands. Andy Labrecque, Peace River, Alberta, Canada, 2012. Andy Labreque was a resident of the Three Creeks community in Peace River, Alberta. After the development of a CHOPS (Cold Heavy Oil Production with Sand) mining facility in the area, he and his neighbours suffered from a variety of symptoms, such as headaches, nausea, dizziness and aches and pains, which they suspected were caused by toxic emissions. After years of complaints to the mine operator Baytex, he joined a class action against the company, received compensation and moved away from the area.
Mountaintops to Moonscapes. Wise County, Virginia, 2012. Activist Jan Branham works with the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards to lobby against mountaintop removal mining.
Monuments: Condemned House, Old Morschenich, North-Rhine Westphalia, 2019. The Hambach mine once threatened the village of Old Morschenich. Demolition of the village has been halted because of the government’s coal reduction plans. However, it is too late to save people’s homes.
Oil Sands. Tailings Dam Embankment, Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, 2010. The by-products of oil sands extraction and refining are stored in tailings ponds that contain toxic heavy metals and hydrocarbons that threaten wildlife and contaminate groundwater.
Oil Sands. Felled Trees, Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, 2014. The oil sands around Fort McMurray in Northern Alberta include shallow bitumen deposits that are extracted using surface mining techniques that require the felling of large tracts of boreal forest.
Monuments. Garzweiler Surface Mine, North-Rhine, Westphalia, Germany, 2019 The Garzweiler II mine is a vast 48km2 open pit mine operated by energy company RWE and used for mining lignite, the dirtiest grade of coal. Digging began in 2006 with plans to displace up to a dozen communities and thousands of residents. Garzweiler I preceded this mine and grew to 66km2 before excavations ceased.
Russian Rust Belt. Asbestos Mine, Asbest, Sverdlovsk Obalst, Russian Urals, 2009 The mining city of Asbest takes its name from the mineral on which its fortunes depend: asbestos. Asbestos, banned in over 60 countries, causes cancers of the lung, ovaries, and larynx. The World Health Organization estimates that about 107,000 people die globally every year from exposure to harmful fibres in the workplace. Despite these cautionary statistics, Russia continues to mine, use, and sell asbestos.
Russian Rust Belt. Karabash New Town, Chelyabinsk Oblast, Russia, 2009. In the mid-1990s, the volume of air emissions from the copper mine plant exceeded 7 tons per person every year. One resident described living in the mining town as ‘like living in a gas chamber.’
Russian Rust Belt. Sak-Elga River, Karabash, Chelyabinsk Oblast, Russia Urals, 2009. Harmful metals from the nearby copper mine outstrip safe levels tenfold, while chemical effluents stain the town’s lake and nearby river orange.
Russian Rust Belt. Beryozovsky, Sverdlovsk Oblast, Russian Urals, 2009.
Russian Rust Belt. Landscape Near Russian Copper Company Mine, Karabash, Chelyabinsk Oblast, 2009. Industrial waste – cinder banks, pyrite tailings, and sedimentation ponds – continually accumulates in the copper mining town and its surroundings.
Russian Rust Belt. Magnitogorsk, Chelyabinsk Oblast, Russian Urals, 2009 In 2007, the Blacksmith Institute included Magnitogorsk, known as ‘the steel heart of the Motherland’ in their ‘dirty thirty’ of the world’s most polluted cities. In 2020 the city was ranked third in an official list of 12 Russian cities with the worst air pollution. Today, many who live and work there succumb to disease and premature death because of long-term exposure to pollution. Local hospitals claim that only 1% of children in the city are classifiable as ‘in good health,’ and one study showed that 40% had chronic diseases.
Russian Rust Belt. Nizhny Tagil, Sverdlovsk Oblast, Russian Urals, 2009 Nizhny Tagil is one of the Ural region’s leading industrial centers, with over six hundred factories. Smokestacks belching harmful chemicals into the atmosphere crowd the urban skyline, giving rise to the nickname: ‘city of the colorful sky.’ Nizhny Tagil Metallurgical Plant is the city’s largest polluter, accounting for roughly 60% of local air pollution. During the Soviet period, the plant poured 660 thousand tons of harmful fumes into the air annually. By 2020, modernization had substantially reduced emissions to 60,000 tonnes per year; nevertheless, this figure represents more than 100 kg of dust per person. Tellingly, in that same year, Nizhny Tagil came second in an official list of 12 Russian cities with the worst air pollution.