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Sacred Paradox: The Onondaga Lake Project

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Published on Jan 28, 2011

Onondaga Lake, which borders the city of Syracuse, NY, is a Superfund cleanup site and a holy lake for the Onondaga Indian Nation. I have explored this paradox, photographing the lake and its tributaries from a canoe and on shore.

I find the lake gorgeous at times and repulsive at others. Raw sewage flows into the lake during heavy rains, as the municipal wastewater treatment plant is overwhelmed. Algae grows in the phosphorus-rich waters, giving off a stink in the summer.

Mercury and other heavy metals lie on the bottom of the lake -- remnants of chemical industry in years past. Swimming has been banned since 1940. Still, bald eagles have taken up residence on the lake, and great blue herons are numerous.

The lake is an extreme example of much of our natural world: polluted yet still achingly beautiful. I hope that my images will cause viewers to contemplate our relationship to the natural world and consider our impact. I also hope to inspire people to explore this lake, which remains captivating despite its long history of abuse.

Still photos from the project are on my website, www.WillsonCummer.com

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