For her series, “Transuranic,” fine-art photographer Abbey Hepner traveled to all of the sites in the western United States that ship radioactive waste to the Water Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Carlsbad, New Mexico. She documented the locations and the amount of nuclear waste removed from each site (noted in the photo captions), and made a set of 13 prints using an archaic photo printing process that relies on uranium instead of silver.
The chemical element uranium aids in the generation of heat in nuclear power reactors, but it also was traditionally used for tinting and shading in early photography. “I believe only ten people in the world are using this process,” Hepner writes in her artist’s statement. Uranotypes are created with actual uranium—a bright yellow solution that is painted onto paper before it’s exposed to light.
“Each photograph is a meditation on a place,” writes Hepner. “Places that we have selectively chosen to discard, not just for ourselves, but also for many generations in the future. What will these sites become in the future? Will they be historical markers, symbols of a prosperous time that came before, or merely scars on the landscape? If this technology is our modern Pandora’s box, where should we lay its waste to rest when it will outlive us all?”
Hepner’s “Transuranic” images are on view through May 23, 2015 at the University of New Mexico Art Museum. The installation [Slide 10] includes a geiger counter reading the radiation levels on one of Hepner’s prints.
Hepner is an MFA student in photography at the University of New Mexico, though she already holds bachelors degrees in art and cognitive psychology from the University of Utah. Her work on nuclear energy (both “Transuranic,” “Scars on the Landscape,” and “Nuclear Mascot,” a fictional story about Japan’s nuclear energy program), earned her a grant from the Puffin Foundation.
Related: How I Got That Grant: VSCO’s Artist Initiative Program;
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