Visiting the Stormbelt
Visiting America in my childhood revealed a brave and dynamic new world. Its intense sun and endless horizons made my early life in northern England seem comparatively monotonous; a colourless black and white. The U.S. I saw in the Sixties was at its most dynamic: the economy was booming and productivity was at its highest levels. Enthusiasm, energy and opportunity abounded.
Forty years later, I returned.
Setting out on the day of the inauguration of President Barack Obama, I began a cross-country voyage from Miami to Los Angeles - the Sunbelt, a region long viewed as the future boomland for the United States. This hot, southern region, stretching from coast to coast, was the land of hope for this generation. Agriculture, housing, immigration and the military were all predicted to repeat the growth of the Sixties.
The country I discovered was a far distance from the impressions of my youth. In January 2009, at the height of the economic crisis, men with “will do anything for work” signs lined the roads, alongside rows of improvised yard sales full of personal souvenirs available for two dollars a shot.
The further I journeyed, I saw the impact of both the manmade and environmental crises the region had suffered. Years after Hurricane Katrina, the coastal towns outside of New Orleans were still devastated. Crossing Texas, the grasslands were decimated from years of continual drought.
At last, to California, where industrial food production swallowed all the water the Nevada river could send to it. Reaching the Pacific, it seemed that there was only one industry impervious to economic and environmental decline - Big Oil.
Retracing my journey in late 2011, I flicked the video switch on my camera, recording the hopes and histories of the people, the loneliness of the road, the beauty of nature and the impact of man across the Stormbelt.
This multimedia ebook commemorates my first sketch of life in the “new” United States.
Stormbelt is an enhanced eBook of photography, film, conversation, sound collage and music featuring essays by Ted Prize winners, environmental photographer Edward Burtynsky, and Cameron Sinclair, the founder of Architecture For Humanity. Editorial direction is by Chris Boot of the Aperture Foundation.