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J. Henry Fair

The World’s Dirtiest Cities

Photographs, 72X48 cm
Flamethrower, 2006

Courtesy of the artist

The work of Fair and other photographers like him is inspired by their interest in the environment and their concern about the destruction being wreaked by our consumption-based economy. Through their works they combat the notion that nature’s resources are unlimited. They travel the length and breadth of the world to present an opposed picture –the scarcer these resources become, their extraction becomes more draconian and the impacts of their consumption become more disastrous. Images from J. Henry Fair’s work depict a number of especially photogenic industrial nightmares.

The subjects he photographs range from coal mining to the production of facial tissues, fertilizer, and food. Extensive research on the industries and their locations is the first step for the creation of art that makes the impacts of these clear to the viewers. By blurring the distinction between form and content, the work seduces the viewer through the image’s aesthetic quality, and then, the moment they realize the meaning of the subject, it becomes repulsive. Viewers can read this project as violently political or as neutral documentation. Be this high art or a documentary work, it draws its inspiration from faith. Fair says: “we no longer have time to commission studies about environmental change, reflect or recriminate. Rather, we need to put into practice a plan to re-gear our economy in the direction of conservation and sustainability. Individuals can drive this change with their purchase decisions”.

In his project “Industrial Scars”, J. Henry Fair makes use of convincing images of the waste produced by our consumer culture, and of the documentary research that accompanies this phenomenon. He does this in order to encourage viewers to gain a deeper understanding of how our way of life impacts upon the environments of our homes and of how our purchasing decisions will affect future generations. “Circumstances in our daily lives, weather events near us and around the world, and a constant stream of media commentary all combine to make the reality of global environmental distress present in our collective and individual consciousness. The query, “What can I do?” rolls from our tongues both as an entreaty and excuse. The answer is that we are already doing a lot… a lot of harm that is so easy to undo” says Fair.