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EPF 2012 Finalist


Danny Wilcox Frazier

Lost Nation: America’s Rural Ghetto. Essay included with application, Surviving Wounded Knee, is a chapter in the overall project, Lost Nation.

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For ten years now, I have photographed throughout the Midwest, the agricultural and industrial heart of America. I began in Iowa, my home, where youth flight has brought many small towns to the brink of extinction. Lost and alienated, these communities seem entombed in obscurity. Following Iowa, my work led me to two other communities in the Midwest where systemic poverty and suffering are the norm: the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and Detroit. Pine Ridge has a long history of injustice and neglect, and sits in the poorest region of the United States (essay included with application). Detroit is the only city in America that has seen its population rise above one million residents and then fall back below. As in rural America, depopulation weighs heavily on the economy of Detroit, the poorest large city in the nation.

Rural America has lost over twelve million people since 2000, with the latest figure putting its share of the nation’s population at just 16 percent, the lowest in history in 1910, that figure was 72 percent. My photographs document those fighting to continue living in these forgotten communities, the individuals working to maintain traditions that symbolize rural life. Swaths of the Great Plains, Midwest, and Appalachia, as well as numerous Southern states are in the greatest danger. Many towns in these regions are likely already lost, and my work will simply document these communities before they fade away.

As I continue to work on this project, my travels will take me back to Jefferson County, Mississippi, North Texas, and Appalachia. Jefferson County has the highest percentage of African Americans in the United States (85%). This county has a rich history that reflects America’s troubled past; it is also the poorest county in the poorest state in the nation. I have photographed briefly in all three locations and funding from the EPF will allow me to finish these essays as I expand the project nationally.



Danny Wilcox Frazier has spent the last decade covering issues of marginalized communities across the United States. He is a contributing photographer at Mother Jones magazine. Frazier’s work has appeared in: TIME, GEO, The Sunday Times Magazine, Der Spiegel, and Frontline (PBS). Frazier was awarded the Center for Documentary Studies/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography leading to his book, “Driftless” (2007). After completing the book, Frazier directed a documentary that confronts issues highlighted by his photographs. The film was nominated for an Emmy in 2010 and won a Webby that same year. In 2009, Frazier received a grant from The Aftermath Project for work on the Pine Ridge Reservation. His photographs appear in numerous collections including: The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Smithsonian, National Museum of American History. Frazier is working on his next book, “Lost Nation”, a look at economic and geographic isolation across America.


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Rich Shulman writes

We are pretty used to reading about safety and environmental issues with coal mines in China and the United States. Now, we are learning about India, the world's third largest producer.

As the Indian magazine Frontline reported in 2006:

The haphazard mining has been taken to such absurd levels that Ladrymbai town is sitting on a rabbit warren of crisscrossing tunnels. Should a major earthquake occur in this seismic zone the entire town could cave in, residents fear. They have to negotiate mountains of coal lying all around them, blocking their doorways and polluting water sources and fields. Their children have nowhere to play, except on coal heaps. The destruction of tree cover has seen a fall in the level of groundwater and rainwater run-off. There is no access to clean drinking water.

Daniel Berehulak / Getty Images

A crane lifts miners out of a 300ft deep mine shaft, as they head out for their lunch break on April 13 near the village of Latyrke near Lad Rymbai, in the district of Jaintia Hills, India. The Jaintia hills, located in India's far North East state of Meghalaya, miners descend to great depths on slippery, rickety wooden ladders. Children and adults squeeze into rat hole like tunnels in thousands of privately owned and unregulated mines, extracting coal with their hands or primitive tools and no safety equipment. Workers can earn as much as $150 per week or 30,000 Rupees per month, significantly higher than the national average of $15 per day. After traversing treacherous mountain roads, the coal is delivered to neighboring Bangladesh and to Assam from where it is distributed all over India, to be used primarily for power generation and as a source of fuel in cement plants. Many workers leave homes in neighboring states, and countries, like Bangladesh and Nepal, hoping to escape poverty and improve their quality of life. Some send money back to loved ones at home, whilst many others squander their earnings on alcohol, drugs and prostitution in the dusty, coal mining towns like Lad Rymbai. Some of the labor is forced, and an Indian NGO group, Impulse, estimates that 5,000 privately-owned coal mines in Jaintia Hills employed some 70,000 child miners. The government of Meghalaya refuted this figure, claiming that the mines had only 222 minor workers. Despite the ever present dangers and hardships, children, migrants and locals flock to the mines hoping to strike it rich in India's wild east.

Daniel Berehulak / Getty Images

22-year-old Shyam Rai from Nepal makes his way through a rat hole tunnels inside of a coal mine 300 ft beneath the surface on April 13 near the village of Latyrke near Lad Rymbai, in the district of Jaintia Hills, India.

Daniel Berehulak / Getty Images

Inebriated workers loiter at the site of a coal depot on April 14 in Lad Rymbai, in the district of Jaintia Hills, India. Local schools in the area, providing free tuition, find it difficult to convince parents of the benefits of education, as children are seen as sources of income. The lure of the mines is stronger than that of the classroom.

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Frontline’s new documentary on Osama bin Laden, Pakistan, al-Qaida and the drone war is an amazing piece of journalism. It’s so good that we thought you’d want to chat with one of its reporters about it.

In “The Secret War,” Stephen Grey traveled through Afghanistan and Pakistan for a first-hand look at the double game the Pakistanis play in the war on terrorism. One of his interlocutors was a Taliban commander, sheltered in Pakistan, who boasts of the support the Pakistanis provide. If the Pakistani government decided to roll up the extremist networks, the commander tells Grey, they’d be shut down before dinnertime.

The report provides a certain context for how Osama bin Laden could have lived in a safehouse in the shadow of Islamabad for as long as six years. What’s more, a former top CIA terror hunter, Robert Grenier, expresses concern that the drone war his old agency wages is radicalizing a new generation of killers to menace the U.S. now that bin Laden’s gone.

With so many questions remaining about counterterrorism strategy post-bin Laden, we jumped at the chance to chat with Frontline’s Grey. But it’s no fun if we’re the only ones talking. So you see that Cover it Live box below? Type your Af/Pak questions in starting at 11 a.m. EST and we’ll field them. And make sure to watch the doc if you haven’t seen it — a short promo’s on display below.

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