Green Bank: an American community of astro physicists, bear hunters and “wifi-refugees”

It’s hard to imagine a life without wifi. It’s even harder to imagine a life without wifi, mobile phones, televisions or even radios. However, since the 1950s this has been the case for the town of Green Bank in Pocahontas County, West Virginia, classified as an official “National Radio Quiet Zone”.

Home to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, the town is free of electromagnetic interference and is now a place for scientists to explore the universe using highly sensitive radio telescopes alongside a community of settlers and bears hunters and so-called “wifi-refugees” who relocate to Green Bank in order to flee the radiation created by our modern society.

When Paul Kranzler and Andrew Phelps first read about this abnormal town in 2012, they avidly followed the story and realised it presented what had been a years-long plan to finally work together. Fast forward to March 2015, the pair made their first trip in what became the start of their series The Drake Equation.

Recently published by Fountain Books Berlin, The Drake Equation is a fascinating series of images, depicting a hodgepodge community where giant telescopes sit among the trees. “What makes this place so special, is the fact that there is a trilogy of locals, coming from completely different backgrounds, who all are in this place because of the unique landscape,” Andrew tells It’s Nice That. “The valley is so small, and the places where these people mingle, meet and interact is so limited that on any given evening the conversation shifts effortlessly between astrophysics, esoterica energy fields, light orbs, hound dogs, maple syrup and bear hunting.”

Divided over two trips, Paul and Andrew spent a total of five weeks in Green Bank, “not counting the many many hours researching and reaching out to the locals,” they add. While there, they developed a working style born out of true collaboration. Instead of planning and discussing how each topic should be photographed, the duo worked intuitively, “passing the cameras back and forth, circling a situation, holding the lights for each other, one of us taking the role of interviewer while the other photographed.”

This unique process is evident throughout The Drake Equation – which takes its name from the formula used to ascertain the odds of finding intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. The images are both succinct and accomplished and with the knowledge of what binds the woman in her Fantasia t-shirt with a room packed full of wiring, the series becomes all the more intriguing.

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