05/26/2010 09:29 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

How Do YOU Use Your American Power?

Hard to imagine a more pressing time to think about this issue. While the one day a year has passed that we celebrate "Earth Day", I figure that like the saying: "Every Day is Kid's Day" (in response to the one day a year for Moms and Pops), every day SHOULD be Earth Day.

One artist dedicated to this concept is the photographer Mitch Epstein whose photographs can be seen on billboards in Ohio with the tag line: "What is American Power?"

Epstein, a well established photographer with works in national and international galleries and museums, has brought art to the streets in the best possible way. "We're not messagistic; this is intended as public art that provokes people to think about our daily use of energy," says writer Susan Bell, Epstein's wife and his collaborator on the billboard project. "It's open-ended rather than didactic because we want people to answer the question 'What is American power?' themselves," Bell adds. "We don't have the answer."

In the fall of 2003, Epstein had been hired to photograph a town that he says, was "in the process of being erased. The American Electric Power Company had paid residents of Cheshire a lump sum to leave, never to come back, and never complain in the media or in court if they became sick from environmental contaminates spewed out of the AEP plant. The company was buying itself a lawsuit-free future. "

"Six months later," Mitch says, "in the spring of 2004, I began to make pictures of the production and consumption of energy in the United States. I wanted to photograph the relationship between American society and the American landscape, and energy was the linchpin; this much I had gleaned from Cheshire. Energy- how it was made, how it got used, and the ramifications of both- would therefore be my focus. For the next five years, I traveled the country making photographs at or near energy production sites; coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear, hydroelectric, fuel cell, wind, and solar."

"The wounds I discovered in the American landscape made me reconsider my own sense of entitlement and the American heritage of Manifest Destiny. These pictures question the human conquest of nature at any cost. Might we, as Americans, consider our obligation to nature and one another, not only our individual rights?"

Regarding doing the work for his American Power photos, Epstein says: "Law enforcement officials more than once ran me out of town when I had done nothing remotely criminal. The result was that from 2003-2008- a span that coincided with the Bush era- most of where I went in the United States to work, I went in fear. This was because my intentions ran counter to corporate interests, which had Homeland Security to back them up. I wanted to make the topic of energy more transparent, while big energy companies and their governmental counterparts shrouded themselves in secrecy. "

It is not often that art meets politics meets public service in this particular way. This project helps move forward the idea that every day needs to be Earth Day by provoking awareness and thought with extraordinarily powerful photography.

Don't wait for a billboard to come to the town nearest you. Visit

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