Black Lake

Turquoise green isn't the colour you would expect most lakes to be; perhaps it has been stained by the demantoid gemstone and glows like the origins of a radioactive superhero under the midday sun, or maybe it is just the asbestos.

Standing at the edge of a collapsed highway and diving off into a vast open pit is the first real sense you get of where you are. The massive rock dumps from the mines created hills that dominated the landscape, more like mountains painted against the skyline of this small village.

The air is dense and dry, almost forgetting to carry sound as it finds itself lost in this extracted place. Stones form circles around boulders under a sun that seems to have bleached everything here white, including the toppled-over telephone poles.

Groups of young people exploring beyond the borders of "No Trespassing" signs would be the only indication of something living here (aside from the distant roaring of dirt bikes sounding more like wild animals). Even the village houses seemed faded by the bleaching sun and just as lonely and lifeless as the surrounding contaminated ridges.

May 7th, 2021

I felt an immediate jolt of excitement run through me when I came across the photos of J.C. Maugans made in 1915 of the Bell Asbestos Mine in Black Lake, where I had made my photos a hundred and six years later.

I first recognized the mine shaft in one of his photographs made for The Asbestos and Mineral Corporation of New York, which immediately grounded me back in a landscape I only visited for a day but has stayed with me since.

My excitement in this discovery was quickly overcome by the same feelings I had after I visited the open pit mines; grief for this devastated landscape, one that, in my search for archival images, couldn't be revealed without the sullied hand of man.

I strongly desire to discover such places and document and research them. Their past and present selves want to communicate deeply with me, and I am still trying to understand why.

I am concerned about our future and see our greed reflected perfectly in industrial-scale extraction processes. This is the pull I am trying to understand; how do I use this attraction to a defiled earth to say something positive, maybe even show something beautiful?

We exist in such a small window of time that time is not even a conceivable concept, even though we live by the mechanics of our machine age. What alarms me most is that our poor perception of time cannot understand the destruction we can dish out within a human lifetime.

Geological time is on my mind lately as I consider these artificial hills made from tailings

that mimic the surrounding mountains that had sat watch over this landscape eons before we humans were even a thought. I think of them as great teachers and keepers of knowledge, pillars that hold up our skies and beacons of something greater than ourselves.

Even though in both J.C. Maugans and my own photographs, we see a barren world devoid of love for our planet, I hope there is a more significant image behind it all, one that will heal its wounds and leave a new generation with a brighter future.

December 3rd, 2022


Matthew Poburyny


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