Rhiannon Adam takes us inside the UK fracking debate

Fracking moves in and out of the spotlight. The media tends to cover a significant moment or event, but, the everyday realities remain unknown. Photographically, the subject also presents a challenge. How do you capture something that is, itself, invisible?

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© Rhiannon Adam

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© Rhiannon Adam

“The subject is difficult to photograph, the only way I believed that the story could be told is through the people” — Rhiannon Adam

The project

Studio 1854 collaborated with Ecotricity, the world’s first green energy company, to launch an open call inviting photographers to submit project proposals. Rhiannon Adam was selected and spent four months investigating fracking in the UK. Her ultimate aim: to redirect the narrative away from the singular news piece and give an identity to those involved. Adam corrupted selected images with a constituent chemical of frack-fluid, alluding to the potential environmental impacts of the practice. The resulting series explores the stories of individuals on both sides of the debate.

The project took place at a critical time for fracking in the UK. On 15 October 2018, midway through Adam’s project, Cuadrilla Resources fracked at a well in Preston New Road, Lancashire – this was the first time fracking had taken place in the UK since a moratorium was lifted in 2012. Adam centred her series on the activities at Preston New Road. Working at and around the site for over four months, she immersed herself in the everyday lives of those on the frontline of the fracking resistance. Adam also photographed campaigners from elsewhere, high-profile anti-fracking spokespeople, and individuals in support of the practice. She captured each subject in a context different from that in which they might otherwise be shown. A Studio 1854 writer joined her on the commission; accompanying editorial and interviews shed light on the stories of those pictured.

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© Rhiannon Adam

““It has been reduced to these two polarised sides of one story. This narrative has deleted the personality of the individual: there are different reasons why people get involved; there are so many individual motivations” — Rhiannon Adam

Featured subjects

A series of editorials published on British Journal of Photography tell the stories of the individuals Adam encountered. The first offers a glimpse into life on the frontline of the fracking resistance; the second considers the perspectives of local people both for and against the practice; and the third explores the lives of anti-fracking campaigners outside of the protest context. 

Featured subjects include the 87-year-old campaigner Anne Power; fashion designer and activist Vivienne Westwood; and Simon Roscoe Blevins – one of three campaigners who were briefly imprisoned in September 2018 for their part in an anti-fracking protest.  

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© Rhiannon Adam

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© Rhiannon Adam

“I am very prone to get angry; that saves me from getting scared”

Anne Power, 87, is an anti-fracking campaigner. Adam photographed her at home in Manchester, UK. Anne has been demonstrating against fracking for five years. She made headlines when police dragged her across Preston New Road outside the fracking site after she refused to move from the entrance: “I have got to 87 [she was 85 at the time] without ever being injured on the road; I know how to manage things for heaven’s sake.”

Read more

“They could frack with unicorn piss and what came out would still be toxic”

Jag (Just another guy), an ex-soldier from Preston, is an anti-fracking activist. Adam photographed him in his cabin at New Hope Resistance Camp, one of the two permanent protest camps next to the Preston New Road site. “What got me involved in this was the fact that I realised it was a clear and present danger to my kids – I would sooner die than let anything happen to them,” he says.

Read more

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© Rhiannon Adam

“The fracking protesters are real heroes: they are people who have protested day and night for many years and sacrificed a huge amount. In the case of the three sent to prison, they have sacrificed their liberty for something that they believe in”

— John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace

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© Rhiannon Adam

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© Rhiannon Adam

“We are out of prison, in part, because we are outspoken, educated, middle-class, white-people”

Simon Roscoe Blevins, 26, has lived in a housing co-op in Sheffield for the past two years. Roscoe did not plan to climb on top of the lorry, delivering equipment to Preston New Road, which saw him and two others sentenced to 16 months in prison. He was released after the Lord Chief Justice ruled the sentence was ‘manifestly excessive’. “The most striking thing was the unique perspective it gave me. Being elevated allowed me to see how many people are involved and how many people care about fighting this,” he says.

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“What you are probably thinking is why the connection between fracking and hairdressing?”

John Kersey has run a hair salon in Grimsargh, a village in the city of Preston, for 22 years. He fell into the profession aged 14 and has been in the industry for over 50 years. Kersey believes that fracking will provide a source of jobs and energy security. “I felt that fracking was a major opportunity for Lancashire to come back to its heritage and be a great industrial county once again,” he says.

Read more

 

Corrupted images 

To make visual the as-yet invisible environmental issues that many fear fracking will inflict, Adam processed selected images with a constituent chemical of fracking fluid – polyacrylamide. She also used water from Carr Bridge Brook: the nearest watercourse to the Preston New Road fracking site.

In 2017, the Environment Agency recorded two separate incidents of water, which contained silt, leaking into the brook from the site. Both instances breached Cuadrilla’s permit conditions and discolouration of the water was observed. Many fear that contaminated water could run off from Preston New Road and pollute the surrounding area.

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© Rhiannon Adam

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© Rhiannon Adam

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© Rhiannon Adam

“I like the idea of creating something beautiful from something damaging, in some ways, this duplicity creates more discussion, and will hopefully raise awareness of the process involved in fracking by engaging those who have not necessarily been following the developments thus far” — Rhiannon Adam

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© Rhiannon Adam

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© Rhiannon Adam

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© Rhiannon Adam

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