Beauty or Beast? J Henry Fair's Photo Is Tellingly Two-Faced

Do you see agates in these beautiful swirls? Or tantalizing, cinnamon-sprinkled cappuccino? In truth, they’re wounds inflicted on Louisiana by a paper mill whose aerators churn effluent in frothing wastewater ponds. The plant in Baton Rouge manufactures printer paper and a popular paper towel brand, using as much as 16 million gallons of freshwater daily, according to photographer J Henry Fair, and releasing such chemicals as dioxin, formaldehyde, and lead and mercury compounds in the process.

Fair is fascinated by societal impacts, like this industrial scab. “Whether it’s Mayan ruins or a ruined factory, they both are icons of the civilization that produced them, and they tell a story,” he says. In his new book, The Day After Tomorrow: Images of Our Earth in Crisis (powerHouse books; see below), Fair focuses on American industry, and his subjects range from an oil-streaked Gulf of Mexico to blasted mountains in West Virginia.

Learn how Fair captures his sweeping shots, and how viewers might interpret them, here.

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