Ghosts of the Gulf

Ghosts of the Gulf
Giclée print on handmade Japanese rice paper in an edition of 13

The 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was the largest petrochemical spill to have occurred outside of war in U.S. waters. The Gulf is one of the most important biologically diverse environments in the world. It exists as a nursery for thousands of marine species, and seventy-seven endemic organisms are known to inhabit its warm waters. For millions of people in North America, seafood from the Gulf has been an important food source. Even throughout Europe, people have relied on fish that migrate along the Gulf Stream.

The long-term impact that the oil spill has had on wildlife and Gulf communities is still not well understood. A recent United States Congressional Report estimated that, after clean-up efforts, almost half the oil (an estimated 100 million gallons) could still remain in the Gulf. Further scientific studies will be necessary to understand the current health of the Gulf. The images of Ghosts of the Gulf were created by chemically clearing and staining species collected in the Gulf after the 2010 oil spill. These species, once common, may now be in decline and are intended to be seen as “apparitions.”

The clearing and staining process involves preserving specimens by placing them in an acid bath with blue stain that adheres to cartilage. They are then masticated in a digestive enzyme called trypsin, which clears away other tissues. Following, specimens are placed in an alkaline solution bath with red dye that bonds with bone and then into a series of washes ranging from potassium hydroxide to glycerin in which their tissues become transparent. The resulting photographic image shows bones and cartilage that are vividly revealed in red and blue.