Ansley West Rivers
The photographs on view of the Tuolumne River and the Altamaha River are part of a larger body of work that covers seven rivers: the Colorado, Missouri/Mississippi, Columbia, Rio Grande, Tuolumne, Altamaha and Hudson. The project looks at the complicated state of fresh water across the United States.
I recently moved from San Francisco, CA to Darien, GA, a small coastal town at the mouth of the Altamaha River. Leaving behind the dry and thirsty California coast was shocking to all my senses.
This change instigated my investigation into the physical and psychological landscapes of rivers. What does it mean to know your rivers both as a physical place and as your water source?
While still a resident of San Francisco, I made the 186-mile pilgrimage to Hetch Hetchy Valley to visit the Tuolumne River and the O’Shaughnessy Dam. I was immediately reminded of John Muir’s long battle against the damming of this valley, which he thought more beautiful than Yosemite.
The battle for this river is the same in many ways as it was in the 1900s. We are on the brink of experiencing another loss as California’s water is disappearing making 2014 the driest year on record. The demand for power, drinking water and irrigation are overwhelming on the Tuolumne, as it has become the only water source for millions.
The Tuolumne River’s struggles though dire do not hinder the beauty of this river as it flows out of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It is still one of the most visited rivers in the United States. The Altamaha River does not carry the fame of the Tuolumne giving it an air of mystery, as its beauty and name largely remain unknown.
The Altamaha River is one of the largest watersheds in the southeast. It is one of the only undammed rivers in the southeast, which is rare due to the Tennessee Valley Association’s over damming of all rivers during the depression.
The Altamaha is one of Georgia’s last remaining wild places. The swamplands surrounding the river has aided in preserving wildlife habitats, cypress trees, long leaf pine trees and people seeking refuge.
Though the river is difficult to access, Hatch Nuclear Plant and Rayonier Paper Mill have managed to build along its banks causing pollution and heartache.
The Tuolumne and the Altamaha like so many rivers across the world are experiencing changes in water levels, temperature and wildlife. The photographs are not aimed at documentation but rather the emotional landscape of water. It is important to understand each river’s path in order to understand the finite resource of water.