Guide to the Sarah Christianson photographs, 2012-2015
Sarah Christianson is a photographer originally from North Dakota. This portfolio of 30 11x14 inch color chromogenic prints is from her project, "When the Landscape is Quiet Again: North Dakota's Oil Boom," which won the 2015 Archives of Documentary Art Award for Women Documentarians. Since 2012, Christianson has been documenting through her photographs the legacy of oil booms and busts in North Dakota and how the region's agrarian landscape and environment is changing again today, due to horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. Acquired by the Archive of Documentary Arts at Duke University.
- Collection Number
- Sarah Christianson photographs
- 1.0 Linear Feet, 1 flat box , 1.2 Gigabytes, 1 optical disc containing 30 digital images in TIFF format.
- David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
- Materials in English
The Sarah Christianson photography portfolio When the Landscape is Quiet Again: North Dakota's Oil Boom, won the 2015 Archive of Documentary Arts Award for Women Documentarians. The collection contains 30 11x14 inch Type-C (chromogenic) limited edition color photographic prints on Kodak Endura paper made in the darkroom directly from 120mm and 4x5 inch color negatives, accompanied by one DVD with 30 digital TIFF files, from scans made directly from the negatives. Christianson provided the following abstract of her work:
"Since 2012, I have been documenting the legacy of oil booms and busts in my home state and how the region is changing again today, thanks to horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. My photographs bear witness to the transformation of western North Dakota's quiet agrarian landscape into an industrial zone dotted with well sites, criss-crossed by pipelines, lit up by natural gas flares, and contaminated by oil and toxic saltwater spills. The oil fields are currently pumping out over a million barrels per day from 10,000 active wells, and companies are planning to drill thousands more."
"This project grew out of the internal conflict I felt over my family's involvement, the need to reconcile their role, and a responsibility to document these important events. Over the past three years, I have driven nearly 9,000 miles and flown for over eight hours in small Cessna planes across the length and breadth of the Williston Basin to create my images. I use traditional photographic processes because of the descriptive detail inherent in large-format negatives. I use a 4x5 view camera to consider the landscape in a slower, deeper manner. I craft my chromogenic prints in the darkroom because I enjoy the intimate, hands-on process of coaxing each image from the light and chemistry."
Acquired as part of the Archive of Documentary Arts at Duke University.
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Electronic records in this collection have been migrated to a library server and digital use copies can only be accessed onsite in the Rubenstein Library Reading Room.
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How to Cite
[Identification of item], Sarah Christianson photographs, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.
Electronic records in this series have been migrated to a library server and digital use copies can only be accessed onsite in the Rubenstein Library Reading Room.
Upwards of 30% of the state's natural gas is being flared. This is cheaper for companies to do, rather than building the infrastructure and pipelines needed to capture it.
Alliance Pipeline seized Brenda & Richard Jorgenson's "best land" through eminent domain and have failed to reclaim "the scar." Brenda says, "I don't need more stress. I don't need more reminders of the inadequacies of the companies that scarred this land. We have not received any compensation."
"Caution: Hazardous chemicals may be present in this area. Failure to use caution may cause serious injury or illness!"
Gravel is in high demand because roads are in constant need of repair from heavy truck traffic.
For oil wells drilled near homes, the current minimum setback distance is 500 feet. Many people are fighting to have this increased to be at least 1000 feet, but the North Dakota legislature has defeated all such proposals.
Saltwater is an industry byproduct that can be up to 30 times saltier than the ocean. It burns the land, making healthy agricultural production impossible. The Petersons wondered, "Should we have to sacrifice our farmland to careless operators?"
The Petersons' field has experienced several saltwater spills over the last few years. The brown and bare patches of land at the center show the extent of the spills and their sterilizing effects on the soil.
This area is may things: a traditional hunting ground, a sacred Native American site for ceremony and prayer, a Civil war era battlefield where Dakota and Lakota families were massacred. It's also a place threatened by the development of mineral resources.
The Lakota called this area "mako sica" or "land bad." French-Canadian fur trappers did the same, claiming these were "bad lands to travel through" because of the rugged terrain. Although no drilling is taking place in Teddy Roosevelt National Park, the sights and sounds of oil development along its borders are clear.
Off-roaders launched this truck off a 100-foot cliff in the Grasslands, where vehicle use is restricted to established trails. A few months later, someone else blew up the vehicle with Tannerite, an explosive that is detonated by firing high-velocity bullets into it.
Aging infrastructure from the two prior boom-and-bust cycles can still be found across the state.
My maternal great-grandparents homesteaded near here in 1912. Although their farm was sold in the 1960s, my family retained the sub-surface mineral rights on the land. We have a share in 7 wells, with more on the way.
This is the largest well pad in North Dakota to date, with 14 wells clustered together in the middle of Williston's new housing developments along the Missouri River.
As the infrastructure from prior booms ages, an increasing number of spills are happening because of poorly maintained and monitored equipment. This 24-year-old pipeline ruptured when it became clogged with oil, causing saltwater to contaminate the surrounding farmland.
These samples of barley were collected on the same day, from the immediate area of the spill site (left) and from a more distant, unaffected patch of the field (right). The stunted growth of the heads on the left indicate that the saltwater spill had been going on for several weeks without detection.
After a new well is operational, companies may perform an intermediate reclamation: they reduce the overall size of the pad and return some of the surrounding land back to its former use.
Each well has a waste pit, which contains all the material removed from underground during the drilling process. The pits are lined with heavy plastics to prevent potential contaminants, such as benzene and arsenic, from migrating into the soil and groundwater. Once the well is finished, the pit is buried on site, amounting to thousands of small landfills across the state.
This stake marks the location of an incoming oil well, one of eight planned for this farmer's pasture. He had no say in their placement and is afraid to speak up for fear that his family's oil well-servicing business would be blacklisted.
To minimize environmental impacts, oil companies are building "ECO-Pads," or groups of wells on a single site. These wells are adjacent to the Killdeer Mountains Wildlife Management Area, a haven for deer, elk, bighorn sheep, pheasant, grouse, wild turkey, and antelope.
This toxic wastewater flowed downhill over two miles through a ravine to Bear Den Bay, part of Lake Sakakawea, leaving a swath of dead trees & vegetation in its wake. Officials do not believe the contamination reached the tribe's freshwater intake from the lake, but many residents in the area are skeptical of their claims.
Sarah Christianson (b. 1982) grew up on a four-generation family farm in the heart of eastern North Dakota's Red River Valley (an hour north of Fargo). Immersed in that vast expanse of the Great Plains, she developed a strong affinity for its landscape. This deep-rooted connection to place has had a profound effect on her work: despite moving to San Francisco in 2009, she continues to document the subtleties and nuances of the Midwestern landscape and experience through long-term projects.
Christianson earned an MFA in photography from the University of Minnesota. Her work has been exhibited internationally and featured by Mother Jones, High Country News, and PDN. She has received project grants from the San Francisco Arts Commission and the Center for Cultural Innovation. Her first book, Homeplace (Daylight Books), documents the history and uncertain future of her family's farm by interweaving her images with old snapshots and documents culled from her personal archive. Throughout her work, she uses her personal experiences and connection to the land to evoke a strong sense of place, history, and time.
The project "When the Land is Quiet Again" was funded by an Individual Artist Commission grant of the San Francisco Arts Commission and an Investing in Artists grant from the Center for Cultural Innovation. Additional support was provided by RayKo Photo Center and in-the-field assistance was given by the Dakota Resource Council, the Killdeer Mountain Alliance, the Northwest Landowners Association, and numerous other individuals.
Click to find related materials at Duke University Libraries.
The Sarah Christianson photographs were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library as a gift in 2015.
Processed by Ben Saalfeld, November 2015 and Matthew Farrell, February 2016.
Accession(s) described in this collection guide: 2015-0114.