Noranda Alumina plant in Gramercy, Louisiana.

April 30, 2021

Hunting for the Archetype

By Julie Dermansky

Artist: Julie Dermansky

Project: Cancer Alley 

For photojournalist Julie Dermansky, her calling is to document the connections between social, political, and environmental change. “I hunt for the archetype in the landscape and find hints of the apocalypse in the world around me,” she writes. By focusing so viscerally on the individuals whose lives are most directly affected by the fossil fuel industry, Dermansky makes personal the sometimes abstract impacts of the forces behind a changing climate. 

Her most recent series focuses on southern Louisiana’s Cancer Alley, an area that hosts a high concentration of petrochemical facilities, whose presence has been linked with high rates of cancer in surrounding communities. 

 

Aerial view of refineries in Norco, Louisiana.

Christmas lights on a house next to the Valero refinery in Meraux, Louisiana, located just south of the stretch between Baton Rouge and New Orleans along the Mississippi River. This area, known as 'Cancer Alley,' contains a large concentration of petrochemicals and oil. The Environmental Protection Agency has found that some fenceline communities in the region have up to a 50% higher risk of getting cancer from toxins in the air than elsewhere in the country.

Noranda Alumina plant in Gramercy, Louisiana.

Rock Zion Baptist Church near Baton Rouge next to an industrial site.

Cemetery in St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana, in the heart of Cancer Alley, next to the Marathon Refinery.

Robert Taylor, founder of the Concerned Citizens of St. John the Baptist, a community group fighting for clean air, on December 20, 2020, at the The Zion Travelers Cemetery.

Emissions from CF Industries in St. James Parish, Louisiana, at the foot of the Sunshine Bridge.

The Zion Travelers Cemetery in St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana, next to the Marathon Refinery.

Home next to the Marathon in St. John the Baptist Parish.

Sharon Lavigne, founder of RISE St. James, a community group focused on stopping more petrochemical plants from being built in their community, at her house in St. James, Louisiana.

Norco’s annual Christmas Parade in Norco, Louisiana. The parade's theme for 2015 was “Santa 4 President.” Norco is in the middle of a stretch along the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

Marchers on the steps of the State Capitol in Baton Rouge on the last of a five-day march through Louisiana's 'Cancer Alley,' organized by the Coalition Against Death Alley (CADA). The CADA is comprised of Louisiana-based residents and members of various local and state organizations, all calling for a stop to the construction of new petrochemical plants and the passing of stricter regulations on existing industry in the area. The CADA includes the groups RISE St. James, Justice and Beyond, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, 350 New Orleans, and the Concerned Citizens of St. John Louisiana’s Cancer Alley.

Opponents of Entergy’s Natural Gas Power Station in New Orleans East march along River Road in Cancer Alley on March 3, 2018. The march passed Entergy’s Waterford Nuclear Generating Station and the Dow Chemical Plant, ending at the Taft Cemetery.

Cindy Russo, wearing a gas mask during the Rise for Cancer Alley march on Burton Lane, in St. James, Louisiana, on Sept 8, 2018.

Protest in front of Mosaic Uncle Sam plant in Convent, Louisiana.

Julie Dermansky

Julie Dermansky is photojournalist and multimedia reporter documenting society’s impact on the natural world and social injustice. She is based in the New Orleans area, putting her at ground zero to shoot the impacts of climate change and humankind’s role in creating it.

Dermansky is an affiliate scholar at the Rutgers University Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights, and a recipient of a National Endowments for the Arts grant. Her photographs have been published by the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, the Guardian, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, among others. Her multimedia reportage appears regularly on DeSmog, an independent environmental news site.