UI artist documents the invisible effects of fracking


A photograph from the exhibition "Fracking the Land / Leasing the Farm," by University of Iowa photography MFA Katie White.
A photograph from the exhibition “Fracking the Land / Leasing the Farm,” by University of Iowa photography MFA Katie White.
KC McGinnis | February 18, 2016

Fracking has had a profound impact on University of Iowa Photography MFA Katie White and her family, leading her to produce a photography exhibition highlighting some of the effects of the practice on the land.

Fracking, formally known as hydraulic fracturing, is the process of pumping millions of gallons of water, sand, and other chemicals deep underground to break up rocks and release natural gas. It is used in 90% of gas wells in the U.S.

The exhibition, titled “Fracking the Land / Leasing the Farm,” is currently on display at the Drewelowe Gallery at Studio Arts in Iowa City. White first came into contact with fracking after her family leased a portion of land they’ve held for generations to a fracking company in Ohio. She made frequent trips back to her family’s land as well as other other parts of her home state to document the ways fracking operations have changed the landscape. Fracking has been known to cause methane leaks that can contaminate drinking water on land near the wells — several landowners have recorded videos of “flammable water” coming from their taps. The process has even been linked to increased earthquakes and tremors.

White noted the challenges of photographing a process that mostly occurs underground, and of gaining access to fracking sites, which often forbid photography. She focused much of her work on her family and landscapes with the identifiable features of the fracking process  shifted to the background, symbolizing the remote, often out-of-sight nature of the industry. The exhibition ends with a series of “flammable water” videos she collected from sources near fracking wells.

White will hold an open reception on Friday, February 19, from 6-8 p.m.

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