Photography and the Marcellus Shale Debate in Pittsburgh

by Duane Nichols on October 4, 2012

 ”The Marcellus Shale Documentary Project”  is opening October 11th at Filmmakers Galleries in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh.

Horizontal hydraulic-fracturing or “fracking” is the process used to break up rock layers with a pressurized solution of water to retrieve the natural gas deep below. Some people have health and safety concerns partly because of that video. Others are embracing the possibility of jobs and money flowing into their depressed communities.

In Western Pennsylvania, Marcellus Shale drilling is the defining industry of our day, similar to the historical impact of the steel industry and coal mining industry that came before. It affects our economy, environment, politics and daily lives. Naturally, opinions are strong.

A new photography exhibit — “The Marcellus Shale Documentary Project,” opening October 11th at Filmmakers Galleries in Oakland — looks at both sides of this passionate, polarized debate.

Laura Domencic, director of Pittsburgh Center for the Arts and curator of the exhibit, was eager to show how photography fits into the discussion.

“Our intention is to inject some thoughtful observations to help facilitate a community dialogue,” says Ms. Domencic. “Arguments can be made on both sides of this debate and this project is not about taking one of them.”

The show features more than 50 photographic images from six regionally and nationally renowned photojournalists: Noah Addis, Nina Berman, Brian Cohen, Scott Goldsmith, Lynn Johnson and Martha Rial.

The validity of the work in this show is established not by the credentials of the artists, including two Pulitzer Prize winners. Instead, she explains, it is the level of intellect, sensitivity and skill with which they approach their work.

“Good documentary photographers understand they have a dual and occasionally contradictory responsibility. First, to represent the truth … second, to create empathy for their subjects, to draw the audience closer to the individuals being photographed,” says Mr. Cohen, who co-created the exhibit.

“The Marcellus Shale Documentary Project” exhibit will be on view through January 6th. The project includes accompanying lectures, a 220-page book and an online archive. Visit the Marcellus Shale Documentary Project online at

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