The Image: Jeff Rich, "Fish Kill, Cumberland Fossil Plant, Lake Barkley, Cumberland City"
I spent two days in Cumberland City, Tennessee photographing the TVA [Tennessee Valley Authority] Cumberland Fossil plant. Initially I was interested in the plant, because it is one of the largest plants in the TVA system, and it produces the most electricity out of all the TVA plants. Also it had a history of causing large fish kills because of the extremely high temperature water it releases back into Lake Barkley.
It was a cold and rainy February in 2011. As I drove into town I could see the plant, its tall chimneys towering over the Tennessee river and surrounding countryside. As I drove in circles around the plant looking for a shot, I realized that nothing I was seeing really captured the size and effect of the plant.
The next day, I drove up and parked near the water outflow of the plant. I set up my camera and within five minutes I had a warning citation in my hand, issued by a TVA police officer. No photography of the plant, a new regulation set after 9/11.
By this time, it was really raining and I was determined not to leave without an image of the plant. I drove down a levee, and found a beach that was littered with dead fish. I realized that this was the image I had been waiting for, the river, the plant and the direct effect of the plant on the surrounding ecosystem.
- Jeff Rich