New Monuments Photo Essay by Jacob Raupach

July 17, 2015
Coal seam gas mine in a Western Sydney backyard

Behind the Nepean Substations (pictured) is an operational coal seam gas mine.

By following his growing interest in CSG, Jacob Raupach stumbled upon a map provided by the New South Wales government.

That map attempts to catalogue every coal seam gas (CSG) mine in the state that is currently in operation, or recently deactivated, or presently sealed.

When Jacob realised the proximity and prevalence of these mines, he was shocked, and since then, the artist and documentary photographer has made it his goal to illustrate this deliberately invisible industry. 

In early 2014 I had been watching various films documenting coal seam gas mining in the United States (better known as fraccing) whilst also noticing more and more discussions and articles appearing online surrounding CSG mines moving further into New South Wales.

I somewhat innocently stumbled upon a map provided by the NSW government that endeavours to catalogue and make known every CSG mine currently operating, recently deactivated or presently sealed in NSW. The sheer amount of unknown activity was quite shocking upon first viewing the map and as I began to investigate deeper, I realised that particular areas in Western Sydney were quite populated by CSG mines and a lot of these appeared to sit quite closely to farmland and particular suburban estates and developments.

The work began as a three-hour stint on Google maps – an attempt to locate the CSG mines and see exactly how visible they were both online and also from the roads. It became apparent that not all of the mines were visible, however most were either quite close to residential, suburban areas or were placed in paddocks. In both situations, the mines presented themselves as quite invisible structures – appearing to be a small water tank surrounded by fencing. I decided to make some initial trips to gather some photographic evidence and experience this mining first hand.

 

 

 

I began making trips to Western Sydney, spending time in Campbelltown, Camden and Menangle searching for and photographing areas where CSG mining was taking place and doing my best to locate as many of the mines as possible.

After these trips I began to think of ways in which I could begin this conversation and ask questions about the nature of these mines and their impact on the areas we inhabit. It became clear not only that the mines themselves were quite invisible, but they also made the actual system of labour invisible. I begun to see this project as a way of trying to understand the complex relationships between capitalism, globalisation and regional industry, with CSG mining in these areas beginning to represent a current, complex idea.

It was an industrial process that continued the post-industrial tradition of making major industrial tasks invisible, yet also acted as a means of automating the actions of work. The worker now seemed to be only necessary for checking a gauge and turning a valve rather than relied on regularly.

The images presented above are the beginnings of trying to visualise and understand the systems of this industry. This investigation of the relationship between the environments and social landscapes that CSG mining exists within ultimately led to the presentation of works at Underbelly Arts Festival.

The intention is that this will begin a conversation about the larger issues of work/labour in contemporary society and the complex issues surrounding the invisibility of both industrial processes and the workers involved.

 

Jacob Raupach’s work is concerned with the relationships between industry, labour, history and failure; in particular, how photographs and objects can contribute alternate historical narratives and critiques of these intertwining systems. This work has continuously tried to address these issues through an examination of regional areas dealing with the ever changing post-industrial landscape.