On commission: Rhiannon Adam documents fracking in the UK

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Last Monday 15 October 2018, fracking began in the UK for the first time since 2011 at Caudrilla’s Preston New Road site, Lancashire. For the past two months, Rhiannon Adam has immersed herself in the local communities and landscapes surrounding the site. Mid-way through the commission, and in light of recent developments, we take a look at how her project has progressed. You can follow the commission and see selects from Rhiannon’s project as it evolves on the Fractured Stories website.

Adam was awarded the Fractured Stories commission for a proposal that would see her focus on documenting the human side of the story: the individuals and communities caught up in the fracking fight around the Preston New Road site. She would then process the resulting images using constituent chemicals from fracking fluid, in order to render the potential threats of the process visible.

© Rhiannon Adam

Preston New Road has been the epicentre of resistance to fracking since October 2016 when Home Secretary Sajid Javid, the then communities secretary, overturned the Lancashire Council’s rejection of the plans, granting oil and gas company Cuadrilla permission to frack in the county. Weekly events and mass protests at the site’s entrance draw demonstrators from across the country and beyond. Two permanent protest camps – Maple Farm Camp and Camp of New Hope – close by the main gate, house a core group of protectors, as they prefer to be known, who have committed themselves to campaign against fracking day in day out. “It is a difficult subject to photograph. The only way I believed that the story could be told was through the people,” she explains, during a recent trip to the Preston New Road site.

Over the past two months Adam has worked alongside the community  – camping at the Maple Farm Camp, taking a coach to London with demonstrators to attend a protest in Parliament Square, and engaging with locals whose homes and lives have been affected. “A big part of the reason why working over a longer period of time is so important is that I need to feel invested. I want to be able to witness the changes taking place and experience the situation first-hand,” she says.

© Rhiannon Adam
© Rhiannon Adam

“It was like treading water in the beginning. I was just trying to find my feet, work out who was who, and understand the complexities of the situation,” she says. Beginning the project in mid-August, Adam remembers her first trip to the site: “It was on a Wednesday, for the Women in White event. It was summertime so the weather was good, the turn-out was good: there were women from all over the country.” The photographer has since experienced life on the camps as the temperature has dropped, and the changing atmosphere in the weeks leading up to the first frack. “It is important to be able to detect the change of mood; to be aware of important events, and to be able to ride the emotion of it,” she explains.

Adam has also incorporated the voices of other important spokespeople in the movement, including John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace, and the British activist and businessman, Joe Corre.  

John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace. © Rhiannon Adam

Where other media outlets provide key coverage of events and developments, through her ongoing work Adam is committed to delving deeper in order to redirect the narrative away from the singular news piece into a more cohesive story. Working on the project long-term means adapting, and reacting, to events in real time. With the first frack originally set to take place in September, Adam has had to mould the project in line with a continuously changing schedule. “I am having to allow the project to take on its own life and to be flexible with it,” she says. Created at a critical time for fracking in the UK, the resulting series will reflect and record the developments that have taken place during the project period.

The photographer has a unique photographic approach that straddles art photography and social documentary. Research plays an important role in her practice and she works mainly in film, experimenting with degrading instant-film materials and colour negative film. “These formats don’t generally lend themselves to documentary photography, which is what I like about them,” she explains. “But it makes each shoot more collaborative.”

Adam will continue to work on the series over the next month-and-a-half. The resulting project will be published on BJP-online.

Fractured Stories is a British Journal of Photography commission made possible with the generous support of Ecotricity. Please click here for more information on sponsored content funding at British Journal of Photography.

Hannah Abel-Hirsch

Hannah Abel-Hirsch joined British Journal of Photography in 2017, where she is currently Assistant Editor. Previously, she was an Editorial Assistant at Magnum Photos, and a Studio Assistant for Susan Meiselas and Mary Ellen Mark in New York. Before which, she completed a BA in History of Art at University College London. Her words have also appeared on Magnum Photos, 1000 Words, and in the Royal Academy of Arts magazine.