Power and Pressure
Coal fire power has a long and storied history in Illinois. Coal products and byproducts travel through the state in many forms. The Illinois River offers a pathway for coal-carrying barges through the state and is a principal tributary into the Mississippi River. Railway infrastructure crisscrosses the state to transport coal across land. Towards the end of 2022, I started researching and photographing coal fired power plants to help better understand environmental issues facing my home state. Coal is a pollutant at every stage of its transportation and usage. From coal dust blowing off of train cars to coal piles at power plants letting pollutants seep into groundwater to the emissions from the burning itself, this process pollutes and directly negatively impacts the surrounding environments at every level. Ten coal burning power plants are currently in operation though most have all been scheduled for deactivation by 2028 under the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act passed in 2021. The largest pollutant emitter, the Prairie State Energy Complex, must be carbon neutral by 2045 or will be the last coal plant to close in the state. My experience photographing this location specifically was truly harrowing. I will never forget how small I felt in that moment, standing underneath a plume of smoke so massive and all-encompassing that I was able to follow the cloud for miles before seeing where it turned into artificially gray tinted clouds in the atmosphere. My focus with this project has been documenting the coal plants of my home state exactly as they exist in the world, showcasing their environments as well as their surrounding areas and the impacts that they have had. Information on pollutant levels in the groundwater at these plants as well is included alongside my attempts to create beautifully lit images of these power stations to create a sense of juxtaposition. The “beauty” in these images is shown in conjunction with QR codes that take viewers to the Ashtracker website for each specific location I documented, juxtaposing the beauty of the images to the harsh undeniable evidence of each power plant's groundwater pollutant levels. This work-in-progress project showcases 5 of the 10 active coal plants in the state and over the next year I intend to finish my project by traveling to the remaining 5 power plants as well as capturing imagery of coal specific transportation across the state.
Stephen Pritchard is a photographer from Peoria, Illinois, currently pursuing his Bachelor of Science in Photography at Bradley University. He will graduate this May and plans to continue his education by pursuing an MFA at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. Stephen's passion for photography began during his high school years, where he initially worked with film photography. In his works, he explores a range of subjects, including self-portraiture dealing with personal struggles, environmental issues, and more. Through his photography, Stephen aims to communicate his thoughts and emotions effectively.
To see more of his work, visit @shots_by_steph and @steph.j.prit