Community Darkrooms Member Spotlight: Willson Cummer

Ninemile Creek #22, 2010

Community Darkrooms Member Spotlight
Willson Cummer: Sacred Paradox: The Onondaga Lake Project

Willson Cummer is a longtime Community Darkrooms Instructor and avid photographer. His exhibition Sacred Paradox: Photography by Willson Cummer is currently on display at Baltimore Woods Weeks Art Gallery. Willson will also be showing his work here at Light Work/Community Darkrooms this summer. Stay tuned!

Willson writes about his Sacred Paradox project:

Onondaga Lake, which borders the city of Syracuse, is a Superfund cleanup site and a holy lake for the nearby 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.

Honeywell International, which bears responsibility for the industrial pollution, is dredging, building barriers, a pipeline and wetlands, expecting to spend over $500 million. Onondaga County has improved wastewater collection and treatment and reduced storm water runoff. The Onondaga Nation is not satisfied with these plans, and has asked for a more thorough job at a cost of over $2 billion.

As the lake improves, bald eagles have taken up residence, and great blue herons are numerous. Onondaga Lake is an extreme example of much of our natural world: polluted yet still achingly beautiful.

Willson Cummer is a fine-art photographer, curator and teacher who lives in Fayetteville, NY. Images from his projects have been included in national juried exhibitions. His first solo New York City show opened in December 2011 at OK Harris, in Soho. He curates and publishes the blog New Landscape Photography. Willson teaches at Light Work/Community Darkrooms in Syracuse, and at area colleges. See more of his work online at

Onondaga Lake #56, 2010

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply