Willson Cummer is a fine-art and commercial photographer who lives near
Syracuse, NY. Images from his projects have been included in national juried
exhibitions and formed four solo exhibits in 2009.
The Onondaga Lake Project
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.