In "American Flowers," photographer Ken Bowers tackles the troubling presence of contaminated trash left behind after America packed up its airfield in 1947.
A recent report has warned that melting ice in Greenland may soon spit up hazardous Cold War radioactive waste at the abandoned US base, Camp Century. Unfortunately, it’s not the only American legacy that was left behind.
In southeastern Greenland's pristine landscape lies the remains one of the most remote United States Air Force bases from World War II. Called Bluie East 2 (pictured above), it was built in 1942 as an auxiliary airfield meant to serve as a plane refueling depot and a strategic spot to keep German U-boats out of shipping lanes. It was abandoned in 1947 and much like the eerie remnants of a ghost town, everything was left behind. The once spotless icy tundra and moody mountains remain littered with the detritus of war; the skeletons of military vehicles, dilapidated structures, and over 10,000 aviation fuel barrels. The Inuits who live in the region call these sad rusted souvenirs American Flowers.
Over the past five years photographer Ken Bower has been traveling alone to shoot remote arctic and subarctic regions – for the past two summers he spent time camping in the Bluie East 2 region in order to shine a light on this otherwise-forgotten travesty of trash. The result, a poignant series of photos called American Flowers.
Many of the barrels still hold leaded fuel; asbestos streaks the remains of the buildings. Other contaminates are said to linger as well. The U.S. has stated that it will not be back to clean up the mess, calling environmental remediation a “shared burden with our host nation for our contribution for defense of the free world.” Read: Not our problem.
While some of the other former U.S. military bases in Greenland may have more urgent waste to contend with, the mess from Bluie East 2 is a visually striking story of litter on a very grand scale; of disregard for the landscape and the people who call this place home. And one done by the government, no less. It’s really quite outrageous. Bower's photos are a testimony of these unwelcome gifts left behind, American Flowers that will endure for ages in an otherwise untouched landscape.