Danish photographer Thilde Jensen came to New York City in 1997. Six years later her life and career was cut short by a sudden development of severe Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS). The urban life she had previously navigated with ease transformed into a toxic war zone. Her immune system crashed, forcing her unto a survivalistic journey, unravelling the comfort and construct of her previous life. The ensuing years were a lesson in basic survival – camping in the woods, while wearing a respirator when entering supermarkets, doctors’ offices, and banks. To her surprise an otherwise invisible subculture of people emerged who shared this isolated existence. Her photographs are a personal account of life on the edge of modern civilization as one of the human canaries, the first casualties to a ubiquitous synthetic chemical culture. Of her series ‘Canaries’ Thilde writes:
‘Since World War II the production and use of synthetic chemicals has exploded. During the course of an average day, people come in contact with a host of chemicals – Just walking into a supermarket one might be breathing as many as 20,000 different synthetic compounds. As a result of the prevalence of these synthetic chemicals, it is believed that more than ten million Americans have developed a disabling condition called Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, (MCS).
MCS is a condition where our immune and central nervous system goes into extreme reactions when exposed to small amounts of daily chemicals like perfume, cleaning products, car exhaust, construction materials and pesticides. In addition, some people also react to light, fabrics, food and electromagnetic fields as emitted by computers, phones, cell towers, cars and florescent lights – making life a near impossibility. Many people with MCS are forced to live in remote areas in tents, cars, or trailers. Others are prisoners of their homes, with advanced air filter systems to keep outside air from contaminating their breathing space’.