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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, each camouflaged with a thin layer of earth. The site was officially closed in 1945 and much of the land was deeded to the state of West Virginia to create the McClintic Wildlife Management Area.
A large system of ponds and wetlands was constructed as a habitat for waterfowl, migratory birds and other wildlife species. In the early 1980's, investigations revealed that this area was heavily contaminated with TNT, trinitrobenzene, dinitrotoluene, arsenic, lead, beryllium and asbestos. The site was placed on the EPA's National Priorities List in 1983 and cleanup efforts began in 1991. While portions of the original facility have been remediated, many of the toxic and explosive contaminants were simply buried on site. Today, certain structures 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 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 that hides a complicated and troubling history of violence and abuse. Using an 8x10 view camera, I have been photographing the ruins of this once monumental military-industrial complex as it tangles with the surrounding landscape of forest, fields and swamp. The suggestion of visibility or invisibility runs throughout the work, alluding to the ways in which we commonly misperceive both contamination and beauty through strictly visual means. At times the contamination may not be visible, just as at times one might not be able to see beauty in a place so neglected. It is in photography's limited ability to show things beyond their surface that motivates many of the pictures I have made here.
Viewing the site as a kind of battleground, I use elements such as camouflage, repetition and death to refer to our continued engagement in violence, whether it is directed at other nations or at the very landscapes we inhabit. 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