A drive to find the source of the energy he uses is what first led Daniel Shea ’07 to the coal mining region of Appalachia. “It’s such a bizarre thing, to be so distant from the process behind the light switch,” said Shea, who received the 2007 Meyer Photography Traveling Fellowship from MICA and ended up spending three years documenting the coal industry. “Over the years, the project took on a much different scope as the multiple political and cultural circumstances surrounding modern coal mining practices proved much more interesting,” he said.
Shea surveyed the social and political institutions surrounding mountaintop removal for his series Removing Mountains (2007) and later went up river to Ohio to complete a follow-up project, titled Plume (2009-10), which focused on the communities that live in the shadow of coal-fired power plants. The resulting photographs have been extensively exhibited nationally and internationally, and featured in publications including City Paper, Vogue (Korea), and Urbanite, as well as online on NPR’s The Picture Show and Photography for a Greener Planet. Throughout the project, Shea maintained a more sculpture-based studio practice and photographed editorial content for publications such as TIME, Dwell, Wired, The Wall Street Journal, Popular Mechanics, and many more.
Shea teaches at Columbia College Chicago and is currently enrolled in an interdisciplinary MFA program at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he works mostly with sculpture and installation. “I don’t know if I’ll go back to Appalachia anytime soon, but my new work explores the post-industrial ruin, inspired by years of traveling to the region to deal with a massive entity like the coal industry.”