‘Petrochemical America’: The Richard Misrach Photos That Inspired ‘True Detective’

The look of True Detective is one of the most distinctive things about the show: all sickly yellows and greens, a world that’s rotting and diseased, a world that’s dying in slow motion. To accurately convey the dark feeling of Louisiana’s famed “Chemical Corridor,” creator Nic Pizzolatto and director Cary Fukunaga turned to Richard Misrach’s evocative photography. Misrach, an influential photographer known for his color portrayals of landscape and loneliness, spent over ten years traveling up and down the industrial plant-choked stretch of the Mississippi River taking large-scale photos of Louisiana’s rot and examining how nature and life is dying and wild in this poisonous land. Some of these photos are used in True Detective‘s opening credits, and they clearly had an effect on the look of the show.

Misrach’s photos were collected in a beautiful and grotesque book, Petrochemical America (Aperture, 2012), a collaboration with landscape architect Katie Orff. In it, Misrach’s photos and Orff’s research combine to show the price we pay for our dependency on oil, with sobering facts about how environmental abuse is changing the Mississippi River and the land. A paperback release of Petrochemical America will be available in May.

Richard Misrach, Hazardous Waste
Containment Site, Dow Chemical Corporation,
Mississippi River, Plaquemine, Louisiana, 1998,
from Petrochemical America, photographs by
Richard Misrach, Ecological Atlas by Kate Orff
(Aperture 2012)