Art is Heart and Beauty: Q&A with Photographer Antrim Caskey
May 20, 2011
Next week we'll be welcoming artist Antrim Caskey, who will be exhibiting her work at this year's festival. She was recently announced as a winner of the 43rd Annual Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards for her work 'Dragline,' a photographic expose of mountaintop removal coal mining.
We caught up with her to learn more about her work on mountaintop removal and why she believes strongly in art as a medium for activism.
Mountainfilm: How long have you been working on photographing mountaintop removal?
Antrim Caskey: About six years to the day. I encountered Maria Gunnoe in New York City, at the offices of The Indypendent, a newspaper where I led the photography staff back in 2004 and on and off since. Three days after meeting Maria, who told me the most horrific details of what the mountaintop removal mining was doing to her and her family, I was in Bob White, WV with her and for three days, she introduced me to the land and the people and mountaintop removal. She got me up in the airplane with volunteer aviators Southwings and I saw the vastness of these sites that interconnect across the state, and region.
After that first reporting trip, I went back at least 20 times over the next three years, publishing along the way. The first assignment I got was with Orion magazine. Jason Houston, who is here at Telluride this year, sent me back down that summer and ran a great package of images in the Jan. 2006 issue. It got some of my subjects in trouble later...
I published my work on this subject in many many magazines - Smithsonian, Le Point, Rolling Stone; newspapers - Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal, Coal Valley News; and online.
Fast forward to fall 2008 when I moved to Rock Creek, WV and embedded with the pressure campaign to stop mountaintop removal with Climate Ground Zero. I have been living and working here full-time in the field since. I documented CGZ's two year action campaign, during which I was arrested several times, let go once, for documenting the actions on the active mine sites. In the end, I have been found guilty of contempt in Raleigh county court by Judge Burnside for violating a temporary restraing order by Massey Energy, the largest coal company in Appalachia.
Why do you decide to embark on the Dragline project?
The journalist embed with CGZ was the impetus for Dragline. Concurrent with covering the CGZ campaign, I was in my second year of graduate study in photojournalism in a unique online program out of University Arts London, London College of Communication. I had a host of talented professionals guiding me through the production of Dragline, an epic work, for me, as it was based on five years of work, and this interesting involvement I was having with the campaign in Rock Creek, getting arrested, testifying to my work on the witness stand while the Massey lawyer attempted to bully me... I relished the opportunity to testify to what I'd been witnessing for years.
The local papers covered our campaign and voted CGZ one of the "stories of 2009." Dragline was designed to be a tool to educate and to activate the American people to stop mountaintop removal. I designed it to be easy to carry or mail, you can fold it up and put it in your pocket, hold it, and when you look at it, a friend noted, you have to turn your head to see the whole image. unlike how we see images today, on a back-lit screen. So Dragline is old school in its design -- large format. It's the photos, and carefully written captions. I had a lot of fun doing it and graduated with Distinction.
You recently won a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism award for your Dragline. What does this award represent for you?
I am so honored to have my work recognized by the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. The earliest news images I can remember, or that stick out in my mind, are those of Robert Kennedy striding through Appalachia -- these images are our record of this place at that time. And now it feels as though it has come full circle. When I found out about the award, I immediately started reading Evan Thomas' biography of RFK; I am even more stunned now. I have never had my work recognized like this. I am very happy.
Why do you think art is a powerful tool for activism?
Art is heart and beauty, who can resist?
How do you inspire others to be catalysts for positive change?
Well, I don't know if I can claim to do that, people have to do that for themselves. People must act; change and hope are not gonna come knockin' on your door by themselves...