24 March 2011

Uneasy Intersections: Nature and Industry

I'm starting a new series about the collision of nature and the industrial world. I shot this in 2005 near the Albuquerque, NM,trainyards and finally finished 6 years later. 

23 March 2011

Patti Smith ^Ask the Angel^

I do so love this piece...

"Across the country through the fields
You know I see it written 'cross the sky
People rising from the highway
And war war is the battle cry
And it's wild wild wild wild.

Armageddon, it's gotten
No savior jailer can take it from me
World ending, it's just beginning
And rock and roll is what I'm born to be
And it's wild wild wild wild
Wild wild wild wild..."
"Ask the Angels," Patricia Lee Smith

22 March 2011

Frida Kahlo Street Art

Frida: vive para siempre en nuestros corazones

L.A., Venice near Crenshaw, foto: Tim McGarry

Buenos Aires, foto: Shane Walter

Melly Los Angeles Graffiti Art, foto: anarchosyn

London, foto: delete08

Valencia, foto:sister midnight

San Fran, foto: Thomas Hawks


foto: Duncan Shields
Chelsea, foto: LoisInWonderland


Frida y Diego, Bisbee, AZ; foto: sparklemotion0

Mexico City

L.A., foto: Concrete Comfields

Closeup, foto: Patrice Raunet

San Fran, foto: Thomas Hawk

foto: Adreinne Wakeed

19 March 2011

Japanese Dream

What I've been playing around with this evening. It all started with a puddle of water on Shirley's patio table...This is my favorite from a conceptual standpoint.

But I like the color here better...

17 March 2011

Pismo Beach, CA

A psychic reader Margot and I discovered in Pismo Beach, CA...distilled through the lens of memory...

12 March 2011

Tsunami Triptych

Copyright Heidi Utz 2011

This combination of images has been floating in my head ever since I heard the news about the tsunami in Japan, and tonight I put it together: a prayer for nature finding her peace.

07 March 2011

Buddhist Street Art - Part 3

[This series has been one of my most popular, so I've decided to add more. For Parts 1 & 2, please see January 6 and January 17, 2011 entries.]

Thinking>Seoul>R. Mardres
Om Mani Padme Hum>London hoarding>Padmayogini
Zen truck>L.A.>GraffHead
Williamsburg, Brooklyn>nycshawnphotos
Rio de Janeiro>saopaulo1

Malaysian restaurant>Melbourne, Australia
Near Cabbagetown, Ont., Canada>J. Diggity
Yello Monk>unknown

Buddha by Slick>Garey St., LA Arts District

06 March 2011

Cancer in NJ: My Family’s Periodic Table of the Elements

Almost 25 years ago, my mother died of breast cancer at the age of 54. She had lived with the disease for 8 years, after having been diagnosed with it in 1978. She was a children’s book author, an artist, and later in her life, a psychotherapist, who radiated a sweet and innocent, Pied Piper-kind of charm. She had a brilliant mind and a wonderful way with animals, children, and people, especially the most seriously mentally ill. And despite all the challenges of her last decade—which included dozens of hospitalizations, cancer, a divorce, the deaths of 4 beloved family members—she was courageous beyond comprehension. The night before her mastectomy, when doctors told us she might not survive surgery, my mother sat in her hospital bed diligently writing a paper for a class in her nightgown.

The year she died, almost 1,000 other women within a 20-mile radius of our home also succumbed to breast cancer. It boggles the mind to imagine that many other families going through the kind of grief I did—83 of them the very same month--after probably strikingly similar experiences: the hospitals, the chemotherapy, the radiation, the waits for test results, the loss of breasts, the extreme side effects of the drugs, the acute pain that even morphine doesn’t cover when cancer assaults the bone…

We lived in northeastern NJ, about 20 minutes from Manhattan, in one of the most polluted corridors in the entire country. The state boasts the record for Superfund sites—almost 150 at last count. These are places that are so badly contaminated with hazardous substances that they pose a severe threat to public health.
NY Metro Region Superfund Sites
This number does not include the estimated 18,000-20,000 other chemical dump sites for which remediation has been suggested. Within the Superfund list, approximately 26 of these scandalously toxic sites were in immediate proximity to my home. Now, NJ is a very insalubrious place—we can all agree to this. But how much do the odds begin to stack against health when one is living within gagging distance of such an onslaught of chemicals?

If this weren't quite enough, we also lived within 50 miles of the 2 Indian Point nuclear reactors and almost equidistant to the Oyster Creek nuclear facility. According to the extremely well researched book The Enemy Within: The High Cost of Living Near Nuclear Reactors, by Jay M. Gould, breast cancer rates are often dramatically elevated nationally in "nuclear" counties, those within a 50-mile radius of reactors. In the four-year period during which my mom died, breast cancer rates in the 5 counties adjacent to Indian Point had risen to 1,803 deaths per 100,000. Given that these are populous NY-metro-area counties, I don't even want to do the math on how many women this adds up to, but I'm sure it's well over 20,000. This book notes that the effects of nuclear fallout are greatly enhanced by the presence of chemical waste. Radiation makes chemicals doubly carcinogenic, as originally stated by Rachel Carson in Silent Spring.

Another not-so-coincidental issue that seems likely to have pushed my mother's fragile health over the edge was the Chernobyl disaster, which occurred the spring before she died. Fallout was estimated to have reached the US in mid-May 1986, when the AIDS-related death toll doubled from the year before, and others with compromised immune systems also succumbed at a far greater rate. (See Gould book for additional details.)

When I was growing up, it was common to step outside and smell a host of aromas not found in nature. One of them was perfume—intense, acrid bursts of fake floral bouquets, made, of course, with petrochemicals. I remember sometimes coming in from play because the smell was just too overwhelming to tolerate. As one drove down the highway toward New York, the smell would change every few minutes, while all manner of black, white, and grey smoke emanated from smokestacks and soot-strewn factory roofs. It was both a visual and olfactory delight.

At the time it was considered an acceptable practice for manufacturers to dump chemicals in rivers and streams. My father’s business involved photochemicals, which he not only cooked in pots on our home stove (!), but also felt quite comfortable dumping into the nearest brook. I still remember the heated arguments as my mom tried to convince him that such behavior would ultimately harm the environment. Glaring at her with the utter condescension for which he was famous, he told her she was “getting all excited over nothing.” Four decades later, it seems amazing that someone could be so naive and unconscious.

However, I will say that in those times, “better living through chemistry” was more than just a DuPont advertising jingle. Chemicals were very much hailed as saviors for any number of ills, and that generation pushed aside any thought of a dark side to their use, as they were the champions of “progress.” Ironically, the fate of future generations was really not considered.

Take, for example, the school board in Niagara Falls, NY, who had no qualms about constructing 2 schools on top of an extremely compromised canal, despite knowing full well that just below its potential building site were 27,000 tons of toxic chemicals. Later, after an entire neighborhood was constructed atop the same potent cocktail, 248 varieties of chemicals began to appear in groundwater and basements after heavy rains, and children came home from play with chemical burns on their skin. This was Love Canal, one of the greatest environmental disasters in American history.
Love Canal, Niagara Falls, NY

My mom had her own chemical challenges. While her health had been somewhat fragile in her younger years (a propensity toward severe monthly migraines), it began to worsen during the 1960s. Throughout my childhood, she spent the majority of days sick in bed—to the point where I remember her bedroom as the primary locus of our conversations. Her condition puzzled doctors, who could never pinpoint a diagnosis. If she’d told them she was living in a terribly moldy house with a husband who cooked photochemicals on her stove, sprayed paint in an unventilated basement filled with asbestos, and reeked of emulsion from his work, while she lived in proximity to thousands of toxic waste sites, they probably would have dismissed her with a shrug. It was sometimes suggested to her, with a wink and a grin, that she was quite possibly “a hypochondriac.”

But just this past week, I discovered another piece of our collective biochemistry: DuPont Munitions. This 600-acre site harboring dozens of contaminated areas shared the town of Pompton Lakes, NJ, with my parents, who bought a home there in 1957. Since 1902, DuPont had operated a munitions factory that contaminated groundwater with solvents including PCE, TCE, and polyvinyl chloride, all of which are linked to cancers including the one that killed my mom. These chemicals gradually moved into the groundwater under 450 Pompton Lakes homes, and that groundwater seeped into homeowners’ basements in the form of both liquid and vapor. Thus, as an infant in my crib, I was breathing in extreme toxins, which severely compromised the health of hundreds of my peers.

DuPont has since been sued by current residents but obviously can’t undo the damage done. As one lawyer put it, “This is an enduring toxic legacy that spans decades.” Indeed. According to Lisa Riggiola, a former Pompton Lakes councilwoman and advocacy group leader, “As a longtime resident since 1962 I have seen too many people become ill and unfortunately some are no longer with us…After two decades of promised cleanup, we still reside in a toxic mess.”

And this is not the first lawsuit. DuPont has been sued by Pompton Lakes’ residents several times before. In the mid-1990s the company removed and replaced soil from around homes bordering Acid Brook, a waterway that runs from its site into the adjoining neighborhood, because mercury and lead were found in backyard soil samples. As part of a court settlement, the company is now paying for lifetime medical monitoring of 1,500 former residents.

I wish I were one of them.

photo by Heidi Utz
Like my mom, my own health has been somewhat complicated throughout my life. I cannot believe that spending several formative years breathing toxic fumes contributed positively to my physical well-being. And though my dad would still most likely deny it, I don’t think that growing up breathing photochemicals was such a great idea, either. As a child I suffered a bout of bronchitis that lasted an entire year—until I was finally hospitalized for a week with it. But no one ever suggested that anything in my physical environment might be having an impact. For the past 11 years, I have had Environmental Illness, or Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, which has impacted my life in so many ways it would take pages to explain. It has also made me much more aware of the chemicals in my environment and those I choose to ingest.

When I remember all of the people from NJ we’ve lost, it’s hard to realize that a number of them died at young ages from various cancers that almost certainly derived from corporate negligence and greed. It’s painful to realize that my mom, who cared so much for the lives of others, was so disregarded in others’ reckless quests for money and power.

A good book on this topic is Living Downstream: An Ecologist Looks at Cancer and the Environment, by Sandra Steingraber. http://www.amazon.com/Living-Downstream-Scientists-Investigation-Environment/dp/0375700994/ref=wl_it_dp_o?ie=UTF8&coliid=I1PR6HVI3KO6WM&colid=DC3RBKLFDS0S

02 March 2011

Into the Wild Skin Art

Tattoos inspired by the words and life of Christopher McCandless. Would he be impressed? Mortified? Nonplussed?
Qui sait!

Interesting how most are on women (and lovely women, at that)...I was expecting more men.

"...there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun."

Magic Bus # 142

Want more Into the Wild? Check out my "Books for Into the Wild Fans" post on 10/28/12.