UPDATE: BP oil spill gets closer to home.
Today I ran into Michael M. Koehler, while reporting in the field on my Anthony Pisano story in the East Village. I became friends with Koehler – a professional photographer and NYU Tisch Alum – after I wrote an artist profile about him in 2009. Since then, I have collaborated sporadically with Koehler. I did a photo project on him in Spring 2010 which I posted here the other day.
Koehler has just come back from Louisiana, where he was photographing the increasing devastation of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and its nearby coasts. Today, CNN covered a press conference where Admiral Thad Allen – who is heading Obama’s relief efforts – answered questions about the Government’s approach to the problem.
On top of the environmental damages that the oil spill is inflicting on the Gulf, a secondary effect is increasing job loss of Louisiana’s Shrimp fishermen who have not been able to do their job. (Think Forest Gump, but much worst, because the boats aren’t ruined – the catch is.)
While BP has hired some of these out-of-work fishermen to join clean-up efforts, they have not been given the necessary safety equipment to carry on the tasks at hand. The combined toxicity of the oil and the chemical dispersants (which are illegal in many countries and have been banned in the U.K.) that BP is using to break-down that oil, has caused the company to recall several clean-up boats due to their crews suffering health problems. (The New York Times covered that specific story here.)
Koehler has many contacts who he has documented in and around NOLA, one of which is Ricky Robin, a seventh generation shrimper in Bernard Parish, LA. Robin and his boat are now working for BP to help boom the waters of the Barrier Islands.
Koehler, a Philadelphia native, did a cover story titled, “Fade to Black,” at The Philadelphia City Paper, which includes a slide show of striking Black & White photographs of the affected coastline.
Here is an interview Koehler sent me:
“I started to document Ricky Robin, a 7th generation shrimper in St. Bernard Parish, LA in 2008. Last week I went down to see how he and his family have been doing since the spill. Currently he is working for BP on the clean up and he and his boat are employed to help boom the Barrier Islands. I was able to photograph a little at a BP work site (in Hopedale, LA) where workers were covered in shirts and bandannas to protect themselves from the oil as they loaded booms on to shrimp boats and there was a faint smell of oil in the air. With a Parish official we were able to take a helicopter from Hopedale, LA into the Gulf where we saw large oil slicks around some unprotected barrier islands with some of the white sand beaches turning black and gray from absorbing the oil. Tears rolled down Ricky’s face as he saw the Gulf from the helicopter pointing out places where he and his father had once shrimped, now covered in an oil coating with large spider legs of crude oil seeping across the water.
While I was there, the first reports of fisherman getting sick came on the news which concerned Ricky and his family greatly and raised even more questions about what would happen to the fisherman, their families who are dependent on the sea to make a living. Although they are being paid now what is the future and the price for the destruction of their culture.”
The fears are that the spill will continue to spread. It is now affecting neighboring States like Alabama. Currents and strong winds are making the oil flow east. Traces of oil and tar balls have already reached Pensacola, FL. It is projected that oil will likely make its way into the Atlantic, but projections say that “New Jersey, New York, and New England will remain unscathed,” according to Helen Kennedy at the Daily News. However, this is in terms of oil; repercussions of the spill are still being felt in the Tri-State area because of limited fish imports from the Gulf and decreasing tourism by East Coasters, who would normally be vacationing in the Southern States.
To read Koehler’s story for The Philadelphia click on the story title above or here. If you want to know more about Koehler and his photographs contact him at: