Monday, December 21, 2009

Ambrose Willie 1944 - 2009:
Ambrose and Lucy Willie, Burnham, N.M. Navajo Nation
I first met Ambrose Willie in 2005 while working on the Question of Power project on the Navajo Nation. Lucy Willie, Ambrose's wife, was the first person I met, spoke with, and interviewed on my initial trip to the reservation. Since that first day Lucy and I had been working together traveling across the Navajo Nation collecting stories, making photographs, and listening to the voices of the Elders regarding the problems created by the coal burning power plants.

The day I met Ambrose, we had coffee, and then sat in silence together for about an hour with no words being shared between us. Ambrose turned, faced me directly, looked deeply into my eyes and only then began to tell me his story. I listened intently for several hours as he shared part of his life's journey with me. He was husband, father, grandfather, medicine man, Vietnam Vet, Purple Heart, a soft spoken wise man. He and Lucy had lived together in their home for over thirty-eight years. While serving in Vietnam he had been exposed to Agent Orange. In and out of the VA hospitals many times for health and lung problems caused by Agent Orange, he knew western medicine alone was not providing healing solutions. He worked with the VA to establish a Native healing service for Vets using traditional ceremonies and sweat lodge.
San Juan coal power plant, Four Corners area, NM. December 2009.
The Willie family lives in the shadow of two coal burning power plants on the Navajo Nation. The emissions from the power plants have caused breathing, asthma, and related lung problems with many families in the area. Ambrose's lungs, damaged in Vietnam by Agent Orange, were constantly irritated by the polluted air from the power plants. Lucy told me many times the great pain Ambrose experienced. In October after another series of breathing attacks, Ambrose was taken to the hospital in Shiprock. The doctors there were unable to help him and he continued to, as Lucy told me, "go down fast". Lucy realized Ambrose needed additional medical treatment available at a VA hospital. No beds were available in VA hospitals in New Mexico and Arizona. A private hospital in Colorado was located where Ambrose could receive the treatment and care he needed. He was immediately transported to Colorado with Lucy following in her truck. After two nights sleeping on the floor next to Ambrose's bed, Lucy spent the next two weeks sleeping in the cab of her pickup in the hospital parking lot.
Shiprock, NM
On the morning of October 27, 2009 at 5 A.M, his family by his side, Lucy holding his hand, Ambrose finished his journey on Mother Earth at the age of sixty-four.
Veterans Cemetery, Shiprock, NM. Navajo Nation
The final request from Ambrose was to be buried near their home in Burnham with other family members in a special ceremonial site. As Lucy made arrangements for the traditional services she was advised not to have the burial at the home site. If she buried Ambrose at the home site within two years he would be moved when the coal mine came through and took her home and burial sites. In a moment of distress and worn from the constant struggle to save her home and family from the mine extension, Lucy made the heart breaking decision to bury Ambrose in the Shiprock Cemetery.
Ambrose Willie: 1944 - 2009
Nancy and I gathered with family and friends as Ambrose was buried with honors by Navajo Veterans and Singers. I will miss his kind and gentle words, strong thoughts, and his concerns for the land and family he loved.

Ambrose stood strong to protect his homeland on foreign soil only to return home and discover the need to continue the stand to protect his homeland on native soil. I will always remember his words and Navajo ways he shared with me. Thank you for your strength Ambrose.

Be strong, be safe, Carlan

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Highway 550 Bloomfield, New Mexico:
Last week I was working in the Four Corners area. Heading home south on Highway 550 just outside of Bloomfield I looked to the west as the sun was slowly setting. Both coal power plants were visible on the horizon. The cooler winter air had created an inversion holding the emissions from the power plants creating multiple colored bands across the sky. No Photoshop or image adjustment here...just what was in the sky.

Today the EPA released some interesting figures for the year. Air emissions from the two coal power plants in the Four Corners released 340,066 pounds of material into the sky in the past twelve months. The emissions include: Selenium 4,279 pounds, Barium 1,801 pounds, Chromium 524 pounds, Sulfuric Acid 143,254 pounds, Hydrochloric Acid 64,941 pounds, Lead 661 pounds, Mercury 727 pounds, and Arsenic 77 pounds.

I just opened the dictionary and looked up Hydrochloric Acid: a clear, fuming, poisonous substance. I wonder which ones make the color?

be strong, be safe, Carlan

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Changing Times:

I have been thinking of the song "For the Times They Are a Changing". Looking back at my first post last March...the past months have brought many changes. I read this morning 7.3M jobs have been lost in the U.S. since December 2007. When I was in New York last month the talk on the street was about the loss of over 34,000 jobs since January 2009 in the newspaper/magazine industry. Budgets have disappeared which enabled photographers to properly bring complete stories to the public. Headlines this morning: "Comcast buys NBC". New entertainment ahead...

Changes? Yes. Business as usual? No. New opportunities? Yes.

The coal stories I have been working on this past year have shown me how limited the major media support is for social and environmental justice stories in the U.S. My goal is to address important social justice and environmental justice issues that affect us all. In 2010 I will expand the scope and locations of the coal stories. Exhibits and public lectures at Universities are scheduled and in planning stages. Redux Pictures will be working to syndicate the stories nationally and internationally. I will make regular posts here as I work "on the road".

The coal project: Question of Power is a non-profit Federal (501c3). The essays and issues advocate for positive social change. The goal: to educate, stimulate an awareness, and create change. To..."show America to Americans". 2010 will be a very busy year, we have alot of work to do. Several individuals have contacted me to ask how they can help. To find out how you can help click here. Many thanks to each and everyone for your continued support. For the times..."they are a changing"...and they hold many great opportunities for positive change.

be strong, be safe, Carlan

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Last week I had the honor of being invited to travel to Nicaragua to visit and work with an educational NGO, Empowerment International. Kathy Adams is the founder of the organization and she is doing some very incredible work. I had the opportunity to spend time with three of her students and share the wonder of photography with them. In my last post I wrote about the power of a photograph. These young students in Nicaragua helped open my eyes to their world. Here is what I saw through my camera in Nicaragua. Click this link to see Nicaragua as I saw it: NICARAGUA

be strong, be safe,


Saturday, November 7, 2009

New York City:
Just returned from New York where I spent a few days meeting and talking with editorial/documentary photo agencies. I have been looking for additional avenues to extend my coal stories to a larger audience. I am going to be working with Redux Pictures in New York. I will continue to create the stories in the same manner. Redux will work to syndicate the stories both nationally and internationally. They are great folks and share my concerns regarding social and environmental justice issues in the U.S.

It is my firm belief that a photograph is a window, it can create a portrait, it can create awareness, it can educate, and it can create change. I want to thank everyone who has been supportive of my beliefs and my work. Without your support, these stories would go untold and the voices unheard. Thank you for your continued support, it is greatly needed and appreciated. I will continue to use my pictures to educate and stimulate an awareness of the unrecorded human cost encountered in the extraction, production, and waste materials of coal for the creation of electricity in America.

We have a lot of work to do.

be strong, be safe,

Monday, October 5, 2009

60 Minutes : TVA Coal Ash

Last night, Sunday October 4, 60 Minutes did a very good story on the TVA coal ash spill. If you missed it, you can view it here:

Monday, September 7, 2009

Uniontown photo/audio story:

I have received several emails from individuals telling me they missed the link to the Uniontown photo/audio story at the bottom of the last post. Here is a small version of the story:

For a larger version of the story click here:

be strong, be safe, Carlan

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Uniontown, Alabama. "End of the Line":
Uniontown is a small rural community located in southwest Alabama twenty-five miles from Selma. Eighty-eight percent of the population is black with a per capita income of $8268. Current unemployment runs sixty to seventy percent.

In my last post I wrote about the approval of the EPA to allow the TVA to transport coal ash from Kingston, Tenneesse to the Arrowhead Landfill in Uniontown.
A study just released from Duke University researchers suggests exposure to dust and river sediment containing toxic metals and radioactivity from the Kingston ash could pose health risks. The study shows samples from the spill contains radium, arsenic, and mercury. An August 15 study in the journal Environmental Science & Technology states: "high probability the dry ash containing fine particles enriched with these elements will be in the air as dust and could have a severe health impact on individuals who come in contact with it".

I have just returned from Uniontown. Here is the story of its people and their "unheard voices" regarding the impact of coal ash being dumped into and onto their community.

be strong, be safe, Carlan

Thursday, July 30, 2009

EPA allows TVA to dump spilled coal ash in Alabama:

Leo Francendese, On-Scene EPA Emergency Response Coordinator, views task ahead of removing over three million cubic yards of fly ash from Emory River at Kingston, TN. TVA plant.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- "The nation's largest utility can dump millions of tons of coal ash from a Tennessee spill into an Alabama landfill, federal regulators said, despite criticism that the plan is unfair to one of Alabama's poorest counties.

The Environmental Protection Agency said it would let the Tennessee Valley Authority ship dredged material about 300 miles from the site of a huge retention pond failure in eastern Tennessee to the Arrowhead Landfill in central Alabama's Perry County.

EPA said the commercial landfill that most often receives household garbage is well-suited for accepting the ash, which contains toxic materials including arsenic and lead.

TVA said the shipments, which will go by rail, would begin immediately.

A rail line runs from Tennessee through northeast Alabama to Arrowhead Landfill near Uniontown. Operators say it's one of the nation's largest commercial landfills.

Perry County will make millions of dollars off the shipments from dumping fees, and TVA has said as many as 50 jobs could be created to handle the shipments at the landfill, which now has five full-time employees.

Uniontown has about 1,600 residents, 88 percent of whom are black. U.S. Census statistics show 31 percent of families live in poverty.

"We still feel that there are elements that seem like an injustice to the people of Perry County," said Michael Churchman, executive director of the Alabama Environmental Council. "The benefits of the new jobs and increased income to families in that county is not as significant as it's being portrayed to be."

"The landfill is permitted to accept waste materials such as coal ash and has the capacity to accommodate the anticipated volume of material," EPA said in a statement.

About 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash was released in all, but TVA hasn't said what it plans to do with the rest. The utility said it was looking for sites other than the Perry County landfill, which typically accepts household garbage.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation has given TVA permission to conduct coal ash disposal tests at four landfills in East Tennessee, but a TVA spokesmen said the agency has no current plans to do so.

TVA's disposal plan said it would initially send 85 loaded railcars every two days to Alabama, and shipments of the same size would become daily within weeks. The disposal could take a year." Associated Press, Jay Reeves.

New rail construction at TVA, Kingston, TN to transport over three million cubic yards of fly ash which will be dredged from the Emory River and shipped by rail car for disposal in Alabama.

be strong, be safe, Carlan

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Four Corners New Mexico:

Photo and short story on the Four Corners published on Photo District News today.

be strong, be safe, Carlan

Friday, May 22, 2009

On the road: Kingston, TN. TVA Ash Spill:

On Tuesday, May 19, 2009 I arrived back in Kingston, TN. the site of the ash spill on December 22, 2008. It has been five months since I was here and I wanted to visit the individuals and families I had met in January 2009 and see how the situation had progressed. Two weeks ago on May 5 heavy rainfall caused large amounts of the ash in the Emory River to move further down river. On Monday the local papers reported ash was found in the intake of the water processing plant for the city of Kingston. When I arrived the ash had settled a bit since the rain storm, but crews are working along the river down stream from the main spill area daily and river booms fill with ash.
Fly ash along the banks of the Emory River under the I-40 Bridge

WBIR Knoxville television released the following report on fly ash accessment this week:

"A study by an Appalachian environmental group and Appalachian State University is showing high levels of toxic chemicals in the fly ash released by the massive spill at the TVA Kingston Fossil Plant.

Appalachian Voices released the study Monday. Samples of ash, water, sediments, and fish tissue collected near the site, 18 days after the December 22 spill, showed cause for concern.

In the water samples, they found levels of arsenic, barium, cadmium, lead, and selenium that exceeded protective drinking water and/or aquatic life criteria levels.

They found particular concern in the Emory River at mile 2.2, where ash clogs the river. There, they found that arsenic levels in the river were 260 times the allowable amount in drinking water, and lead was 16 times the drinking water standard.

They also found that selenium levels in fish were at and beyond the threshold of toxicity for reproduction and growth.

The tests were conducted at Appalachian State University by Dr. Shea Tuberty, Dr. Carol Babyak, Dr. Sarah Carmichael, and Dr. Susan L. Edwards.

The scientists concluded the most dire impact was taking place in the immediate area around the spill, but the levels of toxic elements in downstream sediments was also a cause for concern. They called for additional monitoring of fish in the Emory for years to come."

Caught in debris and fly ash the tail of a dead fish emerges.

This is a difficult story to tell, and even harder to find a starting place on this trip. I have met and spoken with all of the individuals again whom I met in January. A few short updates for now.

Rick Cantrell and I re-visited the area where he had spent time with his family and "many hours on the dock fishing". Other than the plastic safety fence, the slough remains filled with fly ash.

Rick Cantrell looks at the dock where he once was able to fish. The slough remains filled with ash.

I visited with Penny Dodson and Evyn Davis her grandson. The last time I had seen them they were at the local Holiday Inn awaiting word from TVA on relocation housing. A rental house was provided, but Penny was notified by letter this week that in July, she had to vacate the house and the rental furniture, including Evyn's crib, would be picked up by the rental company. Originally, she had been promised a year by TVA.

Penny Dodson and her grandson Evyn after hearing their housing agreement with TVA will end in July.

I have been here five days, but it seems like weeks with all the incredible people I have had the opportunity to spend time with. Back on the road again on Sunday. Stay tuned...I will be working on a full story update with many concerned voices.

be strong, be safe,


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Burn Magazine:

Last summer I had the opportunity to teach a National Geographic Workshop with David Allen Harvey. David is an incredible human being, a wonderful photographer and a special friend. He is publishing on-line photo essays at burnmagazine. This is a great site to read on a regular basis and view the excellent photo essays being created by many passionate photographers. My TVA photo essay is currently showing at burn magazine. I truly believe this is the exciting beginning of the 21st century "Life" magazine. Thanks very much David for creating this exciting publishing venue for photo essays.

be strong, be safe,


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The online photo magazine Fraction March Issue 6 has a feature on New Mexico photographers this month. It is an honor to be included with the group. Here is a link to the current issue: Fraction.

be strong, be safe, Carlan

Monday, March 16, 2009

For the past five years much of my work has focused around the social cost of producing energy in the USA. I continue to work in the Four Corners area of the Southwest on the Navajo Nation striving to photograph the true "cost" of using coal for the production of electricity. An on going project, Question of Power, shows the human condition as we mine, burn, and dispose of combustion waste using coal in the creation of electricity.

One part of the process which has received little notice is the combustion waste. In the burning of coal for the generating of electricity this is called "fly ash". To date, fly ash is "unclassified" by the EPA and Federal Government. Current legislation may change that this year. If you do a little research you will quickly discover fly ash contains most of the toxic heavy metals which are left after the coal is burned. There are over 300 locations in the USA where this toxic material is simply placed in an outside pile.

On December 22, 2008 shortly before the Holidays, I caught a brief news flash regarding a "spill" of fly ash in Kingston, TN. at the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) coal burning electric generating plant. (My understanding is: the Kingston TVA Plant is the largest coal burning electric generating facility in the USA. The fly ash has been stored in an outside pond next to the river since 1954) With a little digging I found information stating 5.3 million cubic yards of "fly ash" had spilled into the Emory, Clinch, and Tennessee Rivers at Kingston, TN.. I thought it strange how it was down played in the news. Knowing fly ash is a highly toxic material this had the potential of being a major disaster.

A single look at my wife Nancy, she quickly said, "you need to go". I drove to Kingston and spent eight days working there. I interviewed residents and photographed as much as possible. To be honest, TVA made it difficult to actually "photograph" the magnitude of the situation. The residents of the Swan Pond area I had the opportunity to meet openly shared their stories and concerns with me.
Rick Cantrell
Tom Grissard
Matt Landon
Penny Dodson

To see and hear their stories on how their lives changed on December 22, 2008 view Clean Coal TVA Ash Spill. To learn more about the current situation go to United Mountain Defense. I plan to return to Kingston in the next few months and will give you an update.

be strong, be safe, Carlan

Friday, March 13, 2009

Welcome to Portrait U.S.A.

Some individuals feel a photographer has to travel around the world from their home to find and share meaningful photo essays. I have always felt quite the opposite. The history being written today and the current state of the country helps to strengthen my feelings. Incredible photographic work has been done during some of the most difficult times in our country. The 30's FSA photographic work stands as one of the most important photographic documents ever created to date. this a difficult and trying time...or one of great opportunity? I believe it is a time of great opportunity to document and share "America with Americans". I will be working on doing this on the blog and sharing my observations through my photographs with you. Observations from where I live to places my journeys may carry me. It is my thought to share the current "human condition" of our country with photographs and reports from the field. Please join me. List yourself with this blog and I will work to share a "Portrait USA" as I see it through my camera with you.

be strong, be safe,