|© Joshua Dudley Greer, Interior (Exploded), TNT Storage Igloo S7-F, Point Pleasant, West Virginia, 2010|
I was about two years into my Point Pleasant project when I made this photograph. The project deals with the site of the West Virginia Ordnance Works, which was an explosives manufacturing facility operational during World War II. I had been concentrating my efforts on creating this typological catalog of the 100 concrete storage igloos that were scattered throughout what is now a contaminated wildlife management area. At first glance, this area appears largely abandoned and overgrown, but it remains a very popular destination for hunters and fisherman. I knew that several people were actively leasing some igloos for storage but I never really gave it much thought since the state's Department of Natural Resources oversaw the land and its use.
In the summer of 2010 this particular igloo, which contained about 20,000 lbs of unstable materials, suddenly and violently exploded. The entire area was cordoned off by the ATF and all of the igloos were seized and searched. The area was placed on a 24-hr watch by armed guards, roads were blocked off and my project was potentially over. I was living in Tennessee at the time and information was difficult to come by over the phone, so I had to drive up there and poke around to see what I could find. My first trip resulted in nothing more than a few photographs of blockades and warning signs. A few weeks later, I returned and caught the attention of the state fire marshal, who was looking for information about the site's history. I had done a good bit of research and had a PowerPoint from the Army Corps of Engineers, who were responsible for the remediation of the site. In exchange for this information, he agreed to escort me to the site of the explosion so that I could make some photographs.
I was limited in my time because although this particular igloo was now harmless, the neighboring igloos were still live, and fear of another explosion was pretty evident. Ordinarily I like to take quite a bit of time to set up the 8x10 and fully consider each photograph, but I took a little less time on this day. I made maybe 4 photographs including this one, which was taken from directly inside the igloo. You can see that the much of the structure has collapsed allowing snow to gather inside and that the tree line has been burned. These igloos already represent a strange transgression between the natural landscape and a built structure, but with this particular photograph there is also a transgression between interior and exterior space. That apparent contradiction along with the graphic nature of the image, make it an important photograph in the series for me even aside from its narrative content.
In the years following this incident, I have continued to work in cooperation with the state fire marshal and the area has been reopened. Many of the igloos have been vacated and there are plans to have a complete evacuation of hazardous and explosive materials over the next few years. However, just four months ago, there were three separate fires on and around this site, one of which caused another igloo to explode. Authorities are investigating.
- Joshua Dudley Greer