According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency website, Environmental Justice is “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies…no group of people should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, governmental and commercial operations or policies.”
Environmental justice issues include but are not limited to inadequate access to healthy food, inadequate transportation, air and water pollution, unsafe and unhealthy homes (due to pollutants), access to greenspace, and worker’s rights to a safe and healthy work environment (study.com). In photographing the 2021 Gund Annual photographic portfolio on the topic of environmental justice, I chose to show people and organizations in the Cleveland area that work to positively impact the previously mentioned EJ issues. I also photographed locations around Cleveland in which environmental justice can be seen.
To speak to food access, I photographed Rid-All Green Partnership’s farm and market and the wonderful team that runs it. For the transportation issue, I photographed the Sidaway Bridge site with those spearheading its revitalization – Bianca Butts and Andrew Sargeant. With air and water pollution issues in mind, I respectively photographed Crystal Davis of the Alliance for the Great Lakes at Edgewater Park, and Robin Brown of Concerned Citizens Organized Against Lead. Working with Robin led me to Redhouse Studio, where architects are hard at work on using mushroom mycelium to purify and recycle lead-poisoned and derelict home materials in the Cleveland area and abroad.
Many of the pictures touch on the issue of access to greenspace, such as the pictures of the team at LAND Studio and the in-process Irishtown Bend revitalization project. Whitnye Long Jones of Ohio City Inc and the residents of Lakeview Terrace are also deeply involved with the Irishtown Bend revitalization – their portraits are included in the portfolio. The residents live in buildings overlooking the Bend and will directly benefit from its revitalization. They are part of the decision-making process for Irishtown Bend every step of the way and are working to make sure the revitalization suits their needs.
This is an active view of environmental justice – these photos show environmental justice working.
Alongside pictures that speak to specific environmental justice issues and the people working to correct them, there are landscape images of the Lakefront Nature Preserve. Those images celebrate and highlight that greenspace, even in its wintry disposition. There is a set of landscape images featuring the Garden of 11 Angels, a revitalization/memorial project on the border of Mt. Pleasant and Buckeye-Shaker. That project was made possible by Jacqueline Gillon, co-founder, and co-facilitator of Black Environmental Leaders.
The images here do not fit together in a linear narrative. Instead, the images show the constellation of environmental justice work and advocates across the Cleveland area. In working with them all, I came to understand that these advocates are each other’s inspiration, support, and cheerleaders. Many of the people photographed know who their comrades in the fight are, whether or not they have been photographed together here. In fact, everyone in this diverse group of environmental justice advocates was introduced to me by SeMia Bray and David Wilson of Black Environmental Leaders, who have their finger on the pulse of all things environmental justice in Cleveland and work to make sure everyone has the support they need to do their work.
A photographic portfolio on environmental justice work in the Cleveland, OH area could take many forms. Thinking about environmental justice conjures many images. When I set out to make these photographs, I immediately knew that I would work against creating a portfolio showing environmental injustice – blighted areas, pollution, food deserts. Does the fact that I didn’t photograph those things mean they have been eradicated? Absolutely not. And this portfolio of images is not meant to be proof of how things have been fixed. This body of work is focused on the advocates and communities doing the environmental justice work that needs to be done. The images also pull focus to the places in Cleveland that have benefitted from this work. This is an active view of environmental justice – these photos show environmental justice working. In this optimistic, active view, this portfolio aspires to be as optimistic and active as the advocates and work featured here.