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Balaschak’s new book ‘The Image of Environmental Harm’ released

Mar 12, 2021

Dr. Chris Balaschak, associate professor of Visual Arts, recently had his book, “The Image of Environmental Harm in American Social Documentary Photography” published by Routledge.

Dona Ann McAdams, “Rancho Seco, Sacramento, California, Sacramento Municipal Utility District,” postcard from the series, The Nuclear Survival Kit: They’re Juggling Our Genes!, 1981.

In it, he explores new perspectives on the history of American social documentary photography, and how politically-engaged photography can serve as models for the representation of impending environmental injustices.Chris Balaschak

“The project started in 2013 when I was on a research trip to the Museum of Modern Art archives in New York, and was looking at photography, prints, and books, made in response to the 1979 accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant,” he said. “I was interested in how artists were using photography as a means of protest, as a way of showing our proximity to potentially catastrophic environmental change, and were choosing photography because it is an inherently reproducible and circulatable medium.”

Balaschak said he wanted to examine how photography might allow us to think of the environment being harmed as not strictly the natural world, but inclusive of human society. It all stems, he said, from his own commitment to environmental justice, and a passion and love of the natural world. 

In the book, he looks at a number of different photographers and projects from across the 20th century that stretch from Puerto Rico to California. Throughout, he said the driving question behind the book was in trying to answer the question of what climate change looks like.

Chris Balaschak Book Cover“The environmental movement is fairly young – the first Earth Day was in 1970 – but for most of those 50+ years, discussion of environmentalism and photography was limited to pictures of the natural world,” he said. “But of course, in the Anthropocene – this period of human-caused environmental change – environmental harm is not happening to some external ‘nature.’ We are both cause and effect.”

Balaschak specializes in histories of photography, modern and contemporary art, and visual culture. His research is focused on visual culture at the intersection of place-based politics, environmentalism, and high modernist social planning. 

The book can be purchased through Routledge by clicking here.

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