The Burden of Proof is a collection of portraits that tell the story of water contamination in the United States.
For years American Industry has polluted its rivers, lakes, and coastlines. The toxins range from fracking fluid to animal waste, from radioactive waste to oil dispersant, which contaminate ground water and create enormous dead zones in the oceans.
The people who consume polluted water suffer from both physical and psychological illnesses that vary from mysterious pains to organ dysfunctions, developmental diseases and chronic depression. Although studies have proven water toxicity, the companies responsible for the pollution deny any correlation between the contaminated water and the adverse health effects.
For the project I have so far traveled to Texas, Louisiana, and Michigan taking portraits of people that have suffered from using and drinking contaminated water. I hope to continue to document throughout the States to show the grand scale of this issue.
THE BURDEN OF PROOF:
People’s Story of Water Contamination
In the summer of 2012, I drove to Louisiana, Texas and Michigan to speak with people affected by contaminated water. Whether it was an oil spill, a coal plant, hydraulic fracturing or the disposal of ‘salt water’, every family told of health problems, economical hardships and ecological loss; stories we are all too familiar with yet knowing nothing about.
I began to see it’s not just the gas or oil that kills people. It’s when people put money before life; when they choose to dump chemical waste in poor residential areas or not to repair a leaking pipeline. People constantly make decisions that impact the lives of others. We often fall into both categories unknowingly. It’s not egocentric to say that it is all because of people and about people. Just consider:
What kind of person would let toxic chemicals leak out and slowly kill a community?
What kind of person sprays oil dispersant on unprotected clean up workers?
What kind of person covers up oil with dirt and then builds a children’s playground on top?
What kind of lawyer forces a double amputee to settle for $600?
What kind of doctor refuses to test the blood of a cancer patient as soon as he mentions fracking?
What kind of politician votes to exempt oil and gas companies from the clean water act?
I set out to make portraits with a strong aesthetic appeal. Portraiture has an incomparable strength that confirms one’s unique existence. My goal was to capture both the dignity and tragedy of my subjects.
Burden of proof is a term often used in legal, scientific and philosophical fields describing the obligation that a proposition has to provide evidence in order to validate itself. My portraits are an alternative way to examine the truth because the legal system has failed them.
In China, where I was born and raised, human rights are largely disregarded. Stories in the States are similar but at least people can speak out. When I photograph these kind, hard-working Americans, I think about my own people back home.
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