SOQUEL—After decades of exploration into the images of Southern racism and environmental injustice, Soquel photographer Terri Garland is embarking on her first crowd-funded documentary project, “Louisiana Purchased,” the story of coastal communities displaced by the petrochemical industry.
It is a nearly two-century-long tale of how racism and corporate greed have impacted Louisiana coastal communities.
“This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done and it also feels like the most important,” Garland said. “It feels like a continuation of my earlier explorations of racism.”
As a graduate student in 1990, Garland explored white supremacy in Tennessee. Since then, she has focused her lens on the people, stories and landscapes of Mississippi and Louisiana. She has documented the impact of hurricanes, the BP oil spill and, most recently, the rapid disappearance of natural wetlands in the region. Last year, she won a grant to teach children photography in Isle de Jean Charles, a narrow island in the bayous.
“This film brings into play various projects I’ve been working on over the past few years,” she said.
Louisiana’s coastline has been losing wetlands at a rate of 16.57 square miles per year during the past 25 years, equal to the loss of a football field of coast every hour, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Garland’s photographs document how oil dredging of canals and chemical contamination have caused soil structures to collapse. Saltwater incursion is causing trees to die and destroying barriers for storm surges.
The USGS reports there also has been a natural erosion of coastline in the area.
The film grew unexpectedly from an ongoing oral history project that Garland has been videotaping to later transcribe. It was going to be a written project. When she was viewing the footage, however, she realized the filmed interviews told a more complex and passionate story.
“It just occurred to me that this could be the beginning,” she said.
In one interview a woman who moved to Baton Rouge cries from the guilt of raising her twin daughters in a home that was exposed to chemicals believed to be associated with a higher incidence of illness. In another interview, Stacey Ryan, a direct descendent of a freed slave who founded the once-thriving coastal community of Mossville, LA, recounts his battle to save his land from a South African oil company. Most of his neighbors have sold their property to the oil company already. Earlier this year, Ryan’s land was rezoned from residential to heavy industrial to make way for a multi-billion oil expansion.
Hope of impact
By telling the story, hopefully people will recognize how the destruction of a single community impacts all of us, Garland said. “In all the stories of individuals who have been harmed, there’s something very large at work.”
Garland is seeking funding through Hatchfund, a relatively new non-profit crowdfunding site dedicated to professional artists. The fund campaign closes at the end of the year. She is also applying to grants and for private sponsorships.
“I suppose I hope that people take the time to consider how we use our energy, that it does not just magically appear from the gas pumps. I don’t know that there’s an easy way that people can hold corporations accountable. But, for us to be able to fuel our lives, other people are compromised in the process.”
ABOUT THE FILM: “Louisiana, Purchased”
WHAT: A documentary project examining the history of the dissolution and relocation of the coastal region surrounding the Mississippi River and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, beginning with the 1830 Indian Removal Act up to present day corporate buyouts. The film by Terri Garland recounts how once verdant wetlands have shrunk in part from oil dredging, chemical contamination and corporate greed and how whole communities have nearly disappeared. Interviews include community activists, tribal elders and a corporate whistle blower. Actor Wendell Pierce, a Louisiana native, has agreed to narrate the film.
WHO: Artist Terri Garland has been photographing the south since a graduate project depicting white supremacist activists in the 1990s. She has photographed the story of the hurricanes and the BP oil spill. She is the recipient of several fellowships. They include the Western States Arts Federation/National Endowment for the Arts Regional Fellowships for Visual Artists; the Rydell Visual Arts Fellowship for her series, The Good Books, images of Bibles found in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina; the Arts Council Silicon Valley Photography Fellowship; a Gulf Coast Fund grant; and a current Blue Earth Alliance fellowship.
HEADQUARTERS: P.O. Box 968, Soquel, CA 95073
INFORMATION: 831-227-5843; http://www.terrigarland.com.
HATCHFUND: The first microphilanthropy site dedicated to accomplished artists in the U.S. Donations are tax-deductible.
TO DONATE: http://tinyurl.com/kmhtr6d.
DEADLINE: Donations accepted online through 11:59 p.m. Dec. 31.
PROJECTED COMPLETION: End of 2015.