Environmental photographer sees bigger picture
Who: Jonathan Long, photographer
What: “Pre-Law Wastelands: Abandoned Mine Lands of Southern
Illinois” solo show
When: Hanging through April 13
Where: ArtSpace Loft Gallery, Center for the Arts
How much: Free
Having grown up in eastern Idaho, Jonathan Long is no stranger to natural beauty. So when he sees land that has been stripped of it, it certainly grabs his attention.
Long’s interest in documenting environmental degradation fuels “Pre-Law Wastelands: Abandoned Mine Lands of Southern Illinois,” his solo photography show hanging at the ArtSpace Loft Gallery in the Center for the Arts.
After pursuing a degree in fine arts with an emphasis in photography, Long attended graduate school at Southern Illinois University, where he went on to earn a Masters of Fine Arts in cinema and photography.
While at Southern Illinois, Long was aware that the area had been heavily coal mined, but had not witnessed the effects it had on the land until one day while out photographing. After Long discovered the stripped land, his curiosity drove him to photograph the sites. When his pictures turned out well, he continued to pursue photography of the area further.
He visited various organizations in the area, questioning them about what he had run across. They were able to tell Long where more of these abandoned mine lands that had not yet been reclaimed by the government were located. From that, his final project for graduate school and this exhibit was born.
Visitors to Long’s show will be immediately overwhelmed by the sheer size of his photographs. Although there are only two photographs displayed, they take up the entire loft space and provide more than enough insight into what Long initially found mesmerizing about the abandoned land, which was destroyed in the 1940s before there were any environmental laws in place to protect such areas.
In working on environmental pieces like these, Long hopes that people will stand up and take notice of what is going on around them.
“I think they already had somewhat of an impact, simply by making people realize that this landscape exists,” Long said. “There were people that had lived their entire lives within a short distance of where these photographs were taken and were unaware that it even existed.”
The scars on the southern Illinois earth that Long focuses on are evidence of activities that changed an entire landscape without regard to the water, air or life, and now the government is making an attempt to reclaim it. The bulldozing and laying of topsoil often does nothing more than cover up what once was.
While shooting the photographs, Long also shot photos from adjacent locations that showed land that had been reclaimed. Although those are not shown in this exhibit, Long still considers venturing back to southern Illinois once the government has attempted to reclaim the land that he spent most of his time photographing.
“I think that eventually I will go back and do it, but part of me doesn’t want to because I don’t want to see it bulldozed and covered up,” Long said. “I’d like to remember it how it was because it is a very beautiful place that I’ve enjoyed.”
While Long hopes to draw attention to environmental destruction, he thinks his next project will shine light on a more positive theme: restoring rivers to their pristine state by removing dams.
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