Maybe it’s because I was born at the tail-end of the Cold War; the Cuban Missile Crisis was still fairly recent news, and the USA vs USSR nuclear arms race was a regular topic of conversation. I recall watching the equivalent of Civil Defense programs on our black and white TV in London. My Dad had spare doors and bags of sand in the cellar of our London house, in case the sirens sounded.
Fast forward to the 1990’s and I discovered the deserts of Utah and Arizona. I had always been a mountain sort of person – cold, wet, snow, ice, that was my thing. And then I experienced deserts, and I was hooked. During a number of trips to Utah, I photographed all aspects of the better known deserts and remote locations — Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, Capital Reef National Park, Arches National Park, the amazing Canyonlands… And then a Moab-based photographer took me on a tour of the unmapped desert behind Arches National Park and I discovered my first abandoned uranium mine.
With many return trips to Utah between then and now, I came to learn a great deal about toxic waste, mining of hazardous materials, processing of radioactive ore, long-term dumping, and even the impact on Utah residents of nuclear weapon testing in neighboring Nevada. And so, later in 2012, I decided to create a documentary production about Utah as a Toxic State.
The first shoot occurred in September 2012 and was a blend of revisiting many of the sites I already knew about, and exploring new locations, meeting some very interesting people, and piecing together an intelligent story line. A second trip is planned for March 2013 and, prior to that, I will be visiting Ohio and Pennsylvania where there are some pretty nasty radioactive waste sites, shipping millions of tons of hazardous waste to Utah.
In fact, the more I researched, the more I realized that all of the United States has been impacted by the country’s obsession with nuclear weapons since 1945. The population that has been most harmed by nuclear weapons is no longer Japan; it is the United States. Radiation poisoning, all sorts of cancer, genetic disorders, deformed babies and animals, and continued denial by the U.S. Government that they had anything to do with these very real medical challenges. Only recently has there been somewhat more accountability accepted by the Department of Energy (previously known as the Atomic Energy Commission).
Check out the Toxic State Facebook page and check back for updates. https://www.facebook.com/ToxicStateMovie