Pittsburgh photographer Brian Cohen set out more than a year ago to lead a group of photographers to document the impact of gas drilling on communities  atop the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania.

The initial group of four photographers quickly grew to six.

“Gas drilling, regardless of one’s feelings, is probably the biggest story that’s happened in Pennsylvania in generations” Cohen said. “And people always want to know which side I’m on. It’s very divisive.

“Everybody knows photographs don’t tell the cold, unmediated truth,” he said, but “there’s a certain power that comes with photography.”

Cohen and his group believed that photography could bring new light to a subject that has generated a great deal of heat because the images enable reflection and a multi-faceted approach.

Each of the six photographers in the group has taken a different approach to the topic, some telling the story of one person or one farm, one group of people, each photographer in a different part of the state.

Cohen himself originally thought he’d do traditional documentary photography but wound up taking landscape images in the Laurel Highlands that could be picture postcards.

“They’re so observational and non-judgmental, totally ambiguous,” he said of his subjects. “I think I was tiptoeing around the edges.”

Cohen has also been taking a more personal series of traditional documentary photos in Butler County, where the drilling escalated very quickly and one particular couple was adversely affected.

A photographer’s work is naturally solitary, and the project has helped to restore faith in working collaboratively as the group meets  to share perspectives and feedback, Cohen said.

“There is a story to tell,” Cohen said. “We’re trying to tell it honestly … understanding that not everyone will agree with it, but we hope they will recognize the integrity of the process.”

Let PublicSource know what you think of Cohen’s landscape photographs, some of which contain an almost imperceptible image of drilling in the background or behind the trees.

Donegal Lake in Westmoreland County is a state-owned site that is maintained by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission for public fishing and boating. At the far side of the lake is a gas drilling pad.
The moon rises over a gas well pad in rural Greene County.
A gas drilling site above Pittsburgh Mills shopping mall in Allegheny County.
A gas operation sits alongside a freshwater stream in Westmoreland County.
A Marcellus Shale gas pipeline runs through a farm in Butler County.
A cryogenic gas processing plant in Butler County.
A gas drilling rig and well pad in the Laurel Highlands.

All images copyright Brian Cohen

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