A More Relevant Conversation
I have been photographing the former lead mining town, now Superfund site, of Picher Oklahoma over a 5 year period of time for my traveling environmental installation on silk, ECHO. I felt that ECHO created an important conversation about industrialism and mining in the small towns of America.
As election results came in, we learned that the "Rust Belt" of small town America was having a larger effect on the outcome than ever expected. This said to me that Echo has a new relevance. We now know we need better conversations and understanding of these areas of our country, places where we have lost touch.
I returned to Picher, Oklahoma, the abandoned lead mining town, in December of 2016 for the annual Christmas parade (yes I said Christmas parade in an abandoned town) with a different perspective. It was my first time attending the parade. It seemed important to connect and communicate with people, to relate visually with their circumstances and general views on religion and work in this present time.
The Christmas parade was a symbol of all of these things.
The parade is orchestrated annually on the first weekend in December by former residents. The people who used to call Picher home know that on this weekend in December they will all "Come Home" to parade down the not-so-forgotten Main Street. They like to call it a family reunion.
Several of the 70 plus floats entered in the parade are sponsored by church organizations with a strident salvation message.
Many of residents of small company towns stand against environmental regulation as a means for maintaining health because it would limit jobs.
"Dying or becoming ill as a result of the job is simply part of the job".
I began to understand how the belief that Trump will bring industry back and will enforce laws that express this understanding of Christianity, might bring hope. The news media machine, on selected television stations and social media, produce what they want to believe. It is the encouragement they hear daily. An ironic image from the parade photo series is a media channel float, pumping out bubbles to the crowd standing within the rubble of Picher.
The heart and soul of all they have every known was left behind when industrial mining companies declared bankruptcy and left them to live in the waste that the companies produced while making fortunes. Once the companies are gone, so are their homes and the only community that they had ever known for many generations.
This same thing has happened in many other small towns across the country.
One woman, who's father was a miner for 55 years, compared the disregarded land to the rape of a woman, witnessed by a crowd, who left her to die in the street.