Joshua Dudley Greer
The West Virginia Ordnance Works (WVOW) was an explosives manufacturing facility constructed during World War II just outside Point Pleasant, West Virginia. Occupying 8,000 acres along the eastern bank of the Ohio River, the WVOW was built specifically for the production and storage of trinitrotoluene (TNT). At its peak, nearly 500,000 pounds of TNT were produced here each day and stored in a massive array of concrete igloos. The site was officially declared surplus and closed in 1945, after which time much of the land was deeded to the state of West Virginia for the creation of the McClintic State Wildlife Management Area.
A large system of ponds and wetlands was constructed as a habitat for waterfowl, migratory birds and other wildlife species. This area came to be known simply as T.N.T. and developed into a popular hangout for local youth, hunters and fishermen. In the early 1980’s, EPA and state investigations revealed that the groundwater, soil and surface water of T.N.T. were heavily contaminated with explosive nitroaromatic compounds including TNT, trinitrobenzene, and dinitrotoluene, as well as arsenic, lead, beryllium and asbestos. The site was placed on the EPA’s National Priority List in 1983 and extensive cleanup efforts began in 1991. While a large portion of the original facility has been remediated, many of the toxic and explosive contaminants were simply buried on site. The remnants of the WVOW facility survive as relics to our nation’s violent history, while the re-purposed landscape hides much of its true nature just beneath the surface.
In May 2010, one of the remaining concrete igloos unexpectedly and violently exploded. Government officials were brought in to investigate a number of igloos that were being privately leased to local businesses and citizens. After issuing several dozen search warrants, they discovered 14 separate igloos had been storing hundreds of thousands of pounds of unstable, heavy explosives. Due to the potential risk of another explosion this area was closed off to the public and remains under 24-hour surveillance. No remediation solution has yet to be determined.
The site that remains outside Point Pleasant is a haunting place of beauty, mystery and violence. Using an 8×10 view camera, I am photographing the ruins of a once monumental military-industrial complex as it tangles with the surrounding landscape of forest, fields and swamp. While certain structures offer a glimpse of what has transpired on this site, many of my photographs refer indirectly to the violence and environmental neglect through metaphor. The interplay of visibility and invisibility that runs throughout the work alludes to the way in which we commonly misperceive both contamination and beauty through strictly visual means. TNT storage igloos are depicted in a serial typology to convey the massive scale of contemporary weapons production, while the emptiness of the landscape, photographed with a muted palette and diffused light, is meant to evoke a kind of post-apocalyptic environment—one that is at times bleak and somber, yet also strangely resilient and beautiful.
Joshua Dudley Greer was born in Hazleton, Pennsylvania. He has exhibited in venues such as The Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia, Emory University, Smithsonian National Museum of American History and Knoxville Museum of Art. Greer currently lives in Johnson City, Tennessee, where he teaches photography at East Tennessee State University.