Cancer Alley is a 150-mile, pollution-ridden industrial corridor along the Mississippi River, between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. This passageway is home to one of the largest concentration of refineries and petrochemical plants in the nation. Towns along the Mississippi River have seen dramatic rises in cancer, birth defects, asthma, stillbirths, miscarriages, neurological diseases and other serious health ailments. Parts of this region have become so polluted that companies have been forced to buy entire towns and bulldoze the homes, erasing them from existence. The communities affected by this pollution are predominately African American. Poor people and minorities suffer most from environmental exposure to hazardous substances.
Many of the small African American neighborhoods along the Cancer Alley corridor were developed after the Civil War when the Freedman’s Bureau offered small land grants to former slaves working on the sugar cane plantations along the Mississippi River. In the early 1900’s Louisiana politicians enticed large petroleum companies to the corridor with lenient policies towards environmental standards.
Consequently, the land in Louisiana is now some of the most industrially injured land in the United States, and the communities that are largely comprised of descendants of those formerly enslaved people are most vulnerable to the harmful pollutants emitted from the petrochemical industry.Community activists have struggled through decades long David vs. Goliath battles for compensation from the state government and chemical producers.
As our nation continues to grapple with an unstable presidential administration that is actively deregulating the petrochemical industry, it is important to reflect on what has happened in South Louisiana.
Working within the documentary tradition, Stacy Kranitz makes photographs that acknowledge the limits of photographic representation. Her images do not tell the “truth” but are honest about their inherent shortcomings, and thus reclaim these failures (exoticism, ambiguity, fetishization) as sympathetic equivalents in order to more forcefully convey the complexity and instability of the lives, places, and moments they depict.
Kranitz was born in Kentucky and currently lives in the Appalachian Mountains of eastern Tennessee. Her work has been written about in the Columbia Journalism Review, British Journal of Photography, Journal of Appalachian Studies, Time, The Guardian, Juxtapoz and Liberation.
In 2015 she was named Time Magazine Instagram Photographer of the Year and in 2017 received a grant from the Michael P. Smith Fund for Documentary Photography. In 2019 she was shortlisted for the Louis Roederer Discovery Award and presented an exhibition of her work at the Rencontres d’Arles. Her first monograph, As it Was Give(n) to Me, will be published by Twin Palms. She is a current Guggenheim Fellow.