Images From a Wasteland

Remediation featured in the FLASH Photography Festival

Photographer Gabriel Stacey-Chartrand found a story with lasting impacts and important lessons mostly by chance. 

When Stacey-Chartrand, an archit-ecture student at the University of Manitoba, was invited to travel with a friend who was reporting on the services, or lack thereof, available to Indigenous communities in Manitoba’s North, he decided to bring his camera with him. 

The journey led them to an abandoned mine an hour and a half west of Lynn Lake, Man., which is a profound example of ramifications on the surrounding environment when an industrial site is not remediated. 

“It looked like a scene from Mad Max,” Stacey-Chartrand says.

Winding their way through the “untouched, pristine landscape,” the pair came across something quite the opposite of the familiar “beautiful, lush, big pine trees.” 

It was an expanse of orange sand and green water. He says they reached a wasteland left by a long-closed mine. Wind kicked up fine dust left from smelting from dunes, scattering its toxic burden “into eyes, airways and lenses.”

“It was as unpleasant as it was striking,” Stacey-Chartrand says. 

Few people know about the very remote and very dangerous site, he says. Those who know about it generally stay away. 

This is why Stacey-Chartrand decided to share his photographs of the landscape. He says he has yet to find other images of its current state.

Stacey-Chartrand says the trip has affected the way he views architecture and usable spaces. 

“It definitely will influence how I perceive the natural landscape,” he says.

For Stacey-Chartrand, the wasteland underscores the importance of cleaning out the remnants of industry. Back in Lynn Lake, the old mine was successfully cleaned up. There are no visual cues that what is now a park could have, if left to decompose its toxic state, been another uninhabitable wasteland. 

The importance of remediation was underscored for Stacey-Chartrand on a recent school trip to Europe. 

The Landschaftspark in Duisburg, near Essen in Germany, is the grounds of a former iron plant where today he says, “Vegetation grows naturally,” and people can enjoy walking and climbing through the structure.

The immense steel structures, which could be a dead zone for humans and the environment, have been brought back to life, he says.

Upon returning from the North, Stacey-Chartrand says he noticed a poster calling for submissions for FLASH Photography Festival a few days before the deadline.

The festival fit his desire to share the powerful, almost surreal, images from the wasteland. He says he hopes other people will gain insight into the importance of effective remediation.

Stacey-Chartrand wants visitors to his FLASH exhibit to appreciate that industry-caused natural destruction is very real, even domestically. 

Maybe more importantly, he says he wants people to understand that the wasteland was avoidable and continues to affect the surrounding communities. 

Remediating land so that it is neither toxic, nor dangerous, but actually revitalized and usable, is crucial, Stacey-Chartrand says.

FLASH runs the entire month of October at 64 venues, most of which are located in Winnipeg. For more information visit flashfest.net.

Published in Volume 71, Number 4 of The Uniter (September 29, 2016)

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