I really didn't want to get this deep into the problems here on the Gulf Coast. I wanted to document the troubles, the solutions, Americans pulling together and a vanishing coastline and then move on to my next destination.
But things have changed. I'm beginning to take it personally now.
In my many journeys out on boats, helicopters, ATVs, and on foot to see the damage done, the cleanup efforts and the areas yet to be hit by the oil spill; in my many conversations with residents whose lives have been affected by the oil spill; in my own personal direct observations of how clean a place can LOOK without really being clean I've come to the conclusion that we are in a serious mess indeed.
I've walked along beautiful beaches with fresh sand and soaring gulls only to stumble upon tidal pools bubbling with buried oil. I've gone swimming in the "safe" waters off the coast of Mississippi only to find that I'm swimming in dispersant and emulsified oil. And I've watched with utter disbelief while the media and the government that is supposed to protect us tells the nation that everything is okay.
Everything is not okay.
As I stated before, I didn't want to get this deep into the situation here, but I have no choice. The waterways, coastlines and wildlife all look normal, but they aren't. They aren't. And I can't sit idly by while we're told that they are. I'm not an activist... I'm an artist. But I've seen things here that make me sick. If this isn't Vanishing America, then I don't know what is.
In that vein, I've started a new series of images to parallel my portrait series, People of the Spill. This series is called Accountability. What you see in the hands of these people is a plaque that every boat over 26 feet is supposed to display. The statement is issued by the US Coast Guard and reads as follows:
DISCHARGE OF OIL PROHIBITED -- THE FEDERAL WATER POLLUTION CONTROL ACT PROHIBITS THE DISCHARGE OF OIL OR OILY WASTE INTO OR UPON THE NAVIGABLE WATERS OF THE UNITED STATES, OR THE WATERS OF THE CONTIGUOUS ZONE, OR WHICH MAY AFFECT NATURAL RESOURCES BELONGING TO, APPERTAINING TO, OR UNDER THE EXCLUSIVE MANAGEMENT AUTHORITY OF THE UNITED STATES, IF SUCH DISCHARGE CAUSES A FILM OR DISCOLORATION OF THE SURFACE OF THE WATER OR CAUSES A SLUDGE OR EMULSION BENEATH THE SURFACE OF THE WATER. VIOLATORS ARE SUBJECT TO SUBSTANTIAL CIVIL PENALTIES AND/OR CRIMINAL SANCTIONS INCLUDING FINES AND IMPRISONMENT.
The water, the marshes and the beaches are not clean yet. They may look clean, but they are not. And until someone is held accountable for the cleanup -- the ENTIRE cleanup -- our coastline and our wildlife will continue to disappear.