‘Specimens’ from the Most Polluted River

Via Orion Magazine and artist Amanda Koller Konya comes Specimens:

Common modes of conveying information, such as science and journalism, fail to represent the complex reality of the New River [considered the United States’ most toxic and drains into the Salton Sea], which flows north from Mexico into California—its use by illegal immigrants as a crossing point, its toxic state, the way it marks the boundary between public and private space. I was especially moved to undertake this project when I learned that the river, containing DDT, PCBs, and other dangerous chemicals, runs through California’s Imperial Valley, adjacent to crops grown and eaten every day by Americans nationwide. Illegal immigrants have direct contact with this chemical stew, and Border Patrol agents, as a matter of policy, don’t enter the water.

I produced the image component of this project at different access points to the river, collecting water samples along the way. Each image is enclosed in a specimen bottle and suspended in river water taken from the corresponding site. I labeled the bottles with traditional specimen tags, which record thoughts and experiences from police officers, Border Patrol agents, immigrants, hunters, activists, and community leaders. To play with ideas of image construction, I built a reversal of the photographic experience into the work: the viewer looks through the river water to see the photograph, whereas one typically would look at the photograph to see the river.”

More specimens can be found at Amanda Koller Konya’s site.


  1. have you heard of Imperial by William Vollman? An incredible book (that demands that you put down your life to read it) in which the New River is one of the protagonists…

  2. Yeah – I remember you brought it up in reference to the Owens Lake chapter of The Infrastructural City Discussion. Sounds as pastiche as these specimens. A bit daunting at 1306 pages…but as you mention it again it must be worth it.

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