Steel Bridge





Creative Commons Licence



Contributed date

February 29, 2020 - 11:44am

Critical Commentary

VtP Image 3 (see full photo essay)

This photograph is courtesy of Mammoet, a Dutch company that brands itself as the "global market leader in engineered heavy lifting and transport." The visual was featured in a 2019 report by ProPublica about the cost-cutting strategies of petrochemical companies. In Louisiana, these companies benefit from tax breaks, while promising both permanent and temporary jobs. As the article shows, the companies forego a lot of the promises by assembling chemical plants outside of the US and then shipping them back.

The visual is a documentation of this practice, the caption reads: "A steel bridge was constructed over the Mississippi River levee so that pieces of a methanol plant could be unloaded from a ship that carried the facility from Chile."

Following anthropologist Stefan Helmreich's work on the FLoating Instrument Platform (FLIP) – a research vessel that can move from horizontal to vertical – the visual of the massive steel construction on the levee creates a sense of wonder. Something similar be said for the photograph taken of the ship delivering parts of the chemical plant.

Verticality is also what matters in Formosas work:
"One important way in which we differentiate ourselves in our marketplaces is through the extensive vertical integration of our supply chain.  We produce oil and gas and transport these raw materials through our subsidiary Lavaca Pipe Line Company, then our Formosa Hydrocarbons Company processes natural gas into its components for use by our production plants. In addition, many products are delivered to our customers through our own fleet of large, modern railcars."

Though this description is of the chemical refining process, the visual might serve to push back against the smooth and effortless depiction of assembling a chemical plant in the first place. 

Cite as

Mammoet, "Steel Bridge", contributed by Tim Schütz, Center for Ethnography, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 3 March 2020, accessed 18 May 2022.