Toxic Waste as Muse

December 02, 2014

Oh, these must be paintings from Monet's LSD period? Nope. Those psychedelic hues are the enhanced (but actual) colors of Brooklyn's Gowanus Canal, one of the most polluted waterways in the United States. Photographer Steven Hirsch positioned his camera over the stagnant, oxygen-deprived water—as his lungs throbbed and skin broke out in rashes—to take images of bacteria and other microorganisms coating the surface. He then printed the photographs on metallic paper, which are currently on display at New York City's Lilac Gallery. Hirsch's "mosaic of filth," as the New York Review of Books describes his work, somehow finds beauty in the 1.6-mile Superfund site that was polluted last century by waste from a tannery, a chemical plant, and a paint factory, to name just a few sources. Until a decade from now when the site's $502 million cleanup is expected to wrap up, the smelly canal will continue to be an oozy muse for any who dares to get close enough to capture its special ne sais quoi.

"Rhode," 2014

"Doris," 2014

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