The ancient mountain forests of Appalachia are being felled. What remains is an eerie, barren, and lunar landscape of rough-hewn rock. Alan Gignoux witnesses the devastating effects of mountaintop removal in America’s coal heartland. Appalachia: Mountaintops to Moonscapes features photography and interviews with activists and local residents. It has been developed into an award-winning short documentary and Gignoux Photos are working on a photographer’s book.
Appalachia in Virginia is known for two very different reasons. First: as America’s “resource colony”. At its height – one hundred years ago – this region supplied two thirds of the nation’s coal reserves. And second: as one of the poorest, least educated, and least healthy regions of North America.
Coal mining has been part of the socio-economic fabric of Appalachia for more than a century. But a move away from traditional shaft mining techniques has been devastating local communities. The difference-maker is mountaintop removal – the now-favoured technique of quite literally blowing the top off a mountain to reveal the internal resources.
Mountaintop removal has taken away employment from local towns. It has also destroyed the landscape, depleting natural habitats, and causing a variety of pollution-related health problems among the local population. The region is also afflicted by a high level of opioid addiction.
“This area is a pandemic of prescription drug addiction,”Jane Branham.
Started in 2012 and still ongoing,Appalachia: Mountaintops to Moonscapes is a long form documentary project that shows the scale of deforestation and the drastic changes in the landscape across Appalachia. It also documents the human side of the story – speaking with numerous local people about the impact of a changing industry upon communities in Virginia.