Yearly Archives: 2014

Climate change photography: a call to arms

This post comes from Chantal Bilodeau’s Artists and Climate Change Blog

 

When someone asked me recently what kind of photography I do, my response “climate change photography” elicited this comment: “Oh, you mean chasing glaciers?” He was referring, of course, to the documentary film Chasing Ice about still photographer James Balog’s Extreme Ice Survey, which provides hauntingly beautiful visual proof of one of the (many) impacts of climate change.

I found myself explaining to this dinner party acquaintance that climate change photography is not limited to melting glaciers or stranded polar bears. Ideally, climate change photography should focus on all aspects of climate change – causes, impacts, mitigation and adaptation. Then he asked me what mitigation was…

That’s when I realized I had some homework to do. I needed a simple definition of climate change photography, one that would resonate with the masses. In short, I needed to develop a 30-second elevator pitch to describe what I do and why I do it.

I spent the next several weeks clicking around the Internet, only to discover that there is no official definition of “climate change photography” (nor, for that matter, “climate change art” – although that is quickly changing). Moreover, my Google search results for “climate change photography” were dominated by the name of one photographer – James Balog. This may give some people (like my dinner party acquaintance) the mistaken impression that if you are not documenting melting glaciers or stranded polar bears, then you are not a climate change photographer.

There are, for example, several photographers focusing on the human face of climate change, such as American photographers Benjamin Drummond and Sara Joy Steele, and Swiss photographers Mathias Braschler and Monika Fischer. Both couples explore the loss of livelihood and culture due to climate change.

There are other photographers focusing on the humanitarian consequences of climate change, such as members of the photo cooperative NOOR, whose diverse images collectively point to the same conclusion: that most social disruption – conflict, food riots, drought, forced migration, refugees, sickness and hunger – can be attributed either directly or indirectly to climate change.

If we wanted to stretch the definition of climate change photography even further, we could include those daredevil “storm chaser” photographers such as Mick Hollingshead whose breathtaking images of supercells and tornadoes provide additional evidence of the increased frequency and intensity of violent storms related to warmer temperatures and more humid air.

Or the growing number of photographers drawn to document the environmental and human impact from unconventional drilling – also known as fracking – of so-called “clean” and “ethical” fossil fuels (both of which require vast amounts of fresh water…), such as Garth Lenz, Eugene Richards, and the collaborative Marcellus Shale Documentary Project.

I could go on and on… you get the point:  climate change photography is as broad as the subject of climate change is complex. Difficult to define.

But the longer I thought about it, the more I realized that climate change photographers fall into two loosely defined camps:

1)   Those who primarily focus on the “negative” impacts/consequences of climate change; and

2)   Those who primarily focus on what I would like to call the “silver lining” of the dark climate change cloud. (And there are probably many photographers doing both, e.g., Gary Braasch.)

The vast majority of self-described climate change photographers fall into the “negative impact” camp, i.e., they provide stunning imagery of the most visible and disturbing impacts of climate change: extreme weather, historic droughts, temperature records, ice-free Arctic summers, rising seas, melting glaciers, coastal erosion, storm surges, forest fires, ruined crops, food riots, dried river beds, forced migration and refugees; etc.

In contrast, only a handful of photographers fall into the “silver lining” camp, i.e., using their cameras to shift the global climate change conversation from despair to optimism, from apathy to action. To celebrate the many opportunities – economic, environmental and health – to be gained from transitioning to a clean energy economy.

Why is this distinction important? Because I believe climate change photographers have a critical role to play in constructively influencing the debate about the way forward. As I posted earlier, GEO Magazine’s Peter-Matthias Gaede noted way back in 2007 that “People will turn away from environmental issues if the media reports only on disasters and problems.”  Duke’s Dean Bill Chameides came to the same conclusion earlier this year in his #mustread post “The dark side of environmental art” citing research called:  Fear won’t do it.

The writer Marion Davis says the same thing in a different way: “It’s one of the first lessons you learn in journalism: People care about people. If your readers can’t relate to what you’re telling them, if it’s not tangible, they’re not going to pay attention. So if you want to make a difference, you can’t just provide information – you have to frame it in human terms.”

This is where the future of climate change photography comes in. We can provide real-life portraits of individuals, companiescities and now entire U.S. states already moving forward, ignoring the noise, focusing on solutions and the inevitable transition to a clean energy economy.

For inspiration, take a look at this beautiful video produced by Sir Richard Branson’s Carbon War Room to get a sense of what I mean: it provides excellent examples of the kinds of upbeat, positive photo/video essays we photographers need to produce in order to drown out the gloom-and-doom that dominates both traditional and social media. To change the mood music, as Jonathon Porritt coined.

The Carbon War Room video states clearly that climate change is humanity’s biggest challenge. Ever. But it can also unlock a world of opportunities as we transition to a low carbon economy. There are dozens of cool ideas described on 100% renewable energy-inspired The Solutions Project website, which climate change photographers could spend literally the rest of their lifetimes documenting.

I recognize the important historical value of documenting vanishing coastlines, glaciers, species, ways of life, even whole island nations. This will remain an important role for some climate change photographers for decades to come. However, since the majority of people already connect the dots between the melting glaciers, rising seas, extreme weather and climate change, I think it is important to encourage the next generation of climate change photographers to move beyond the “negative impact” stories of climate change and concentrate more on the “silver lining” stories that will inspire people and politicians to take concrete action. Only a tiny minority of people refuses to “see” the undeniable evidence of climate change – 2% in Canada and 12% in the US – and no amount of stunning visual imagery of melting glaciers will convince them otherwise.

So let’s turn our cameras to the future. Let’s help make renewables mainstream. Let’s produce compelling photo essays of some of the already existing mitigation and adaptation activities at various stages of experimentation or commercialization:  green architecture; smart windows; cryogenics; micro-windmills, EVs, solar orbs, even the humble rhubarb. Let’s focus on the positive, on making the science of climate change empowering rather than disempowering. Because there’s still hope for the future: the end of fossil fuels is no longer just a crazy dream:  the shift to a low-carbon economy has already started, even without the Holy Grail of a “legally binding” post-Kyoto global agreement.

The speed at which renewable energy technologies are changing is breathtaking. If the next generation of climate change photographers would keep their eyes on the prize – a 100% clean energy economy in our lifetimes – they can collectively contribute to what Paul Guilding has described as one of the most transformational economic changes the world has ever seen. I can’t think of a better career choice.  Bonne chance!

For positive images of renewable energy construction, visit Joan’s website.

Follow Joan on Twitter @CleanNergyPhoto.

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Artists and Climate Change is a blog by playwright Chantal Bilodeau that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to Chantal Bilodeau’s Artists and Climate Change Blog

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Waiting for Climate Change

This post comes from Chantal Bilodeau’s Artists and Climate Change Blog

We, the collective we, seem to be waiting passively for someone else to “do something” about climate change. Someone else to think. Someone else to act. Someone else to lead. Not me. Not now. No way.

“Waiting for climate change” is Cordal’s 2012 masterpiece. Described as a “Lilliputian army which attests to the end of an era” by David Moinard, Cordal’s miniature clay figurines – no larger than 25 cm – stand passively on Flemish beaches, some up to their necks in sand, as if waiting for the inevitable rising seas to swallow them whole.

Isaac Cordal, climate change, Belgium, waitingIn addition, Cordal perched 10 small figurines atop wooden pedestals, wearing scuba goggles or flotation devices, gazing impassively at the horizon. Still others occupy empty rooms in a dilapidated 1930’s-era beachfront villa.

Painted in drab business suits, most of Cordal’s anonymous clay figurines clutch vestiges of their uniform existence: briefcases and cell phones. Many also wear life preservers around their waists and arms, ready for the flood. Tiny, almost invisible, they speak volumes about the absurdity of our collective inertia regarding climate change.

Cordal’s docile figures remind me of Huxley’s soma-induced Brave New World, where everyone (except the emotional Shakespeare-inspired Savage) is submissive, obedient, and acquiescent.

These and other temporary installations – which Cordal prefers to call interventions – are part of a larger, ongoing street art project entitled “Cement Eclipses.” This unique body of work meticulously, precariously positions tiny statuettes in the most unexpected places – on gutters, in puddles, the edges of buildings, telephone lines, fences, bus stops, even cracks in the road – in abandoned corners of urban environments. To date, Cordal has created 60 miniature environmental interventions in cities as diverse as Riga, Chiapas, Zagreb, London, Bogatá, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Málaga, Milan, Nantes, Vienna, Berlin, Brussels, San José, San Francisco, Orebro, Murcia.

Not all of Cordal’s interventions address climate change directly. But every one forces critical reflection upon the ecological impact of our irresponsible consumer behaviour, which is directly responsible for the exploitation of finite natural resources. As an existential artist, Cordal is obsessed with the question: What are we doing to our world?

For example, one of Cordal’s 2013 sculptures as part of a larger installation called “Follow The Leaders” was meant to draw attention to the faceless businessmen who run our capitalist global order. However, after going viral online, a photograph of this sculpture was baptized “Politicians talking about climate change” by social media users.

Isaac Cordal, climate change, Berlin, waiting

I’m willing to bet that Cordal’s photo of a group of his clay businessmen submerged in a Berlin puddle will re-appear and re-appear on Twitter for years if not decades to come. It is a perfect example of the subversive nature of art: how artists must first create friction in order to generate new ways of seeing, understanding. To me, this is climate change art at its finest.

By “celebrating the small” Cordal includes a subliminal message in each tiny figurine, either solo or in groups. An interview in the Global Post quotes Cordal in Phaidon, “Cement Eclipses is a critique of our behaviour as a social mass. It refers to this collective inertia that leads us to think that our small actions cannot change anything. But I believe that every small act can contribute to a big change. Many small changes can bring back social attitudes that manipulate the global inertia and turn it into something more positive.”

All photos posted here were taken by the artist, Isaac Cordal.

Follow Joan Sullivan her photo website and on Twitter @CleanNergyPhoto

Filed under: Sculpture, Visual Arts

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Artists and Climate Change is a blog by playwright Chantal Bilodeau that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to Chantal Bilodeau’s Artists and Climate Change Blog

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International Women’s Day/Month 2014

This post comes from Chantal Bilodeau’s Artists and Climate Change Blog

With March being #IWD month, I’ve spent several days scouring the internet for inspiring stories of creative women using their art to raise awareness about climate change.  Here are two videos — one from the west coast, one from the east coast — which highlight the important contribution that women artists are making to the global climate change conversation.

 

Australian Margaret Wertheim’s amazing TED talk describes the global hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef (CCR) project which she and her twin sister Christine created and curate through their Institute For Figuring (IFF) in Los Angeles, California. The CCR is an ongoing, experimental,  participative feminine handicraft project that re-creates coral reefs using the technique of “hyperbolic crochet“.  Below are two images from the IFF’s Crochet Coral Reef website, reprinted here with permission:

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According to the IFF website, this unique fiber arts project is “the nexus of maths, handicrafts, environmentalism, community art, feminism and science” and, simultaneously, “a testimony to the disappearing wonders of the marine world” due to climate change, notably ocean warming, acidification and pollution.

On the other side of the country, the American Academy for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)’ art gallery is currently hosting a  five-month exhibition called Voyage of Discovery, through 31 May 2014.  This collaborative exhibit by three Washington, D.C. artists — Michele Banks, Jessica Beels and Ellyn Weiss – provides an artistic interpretation of climate change that transports gallery visitors to a shifting polar region “where the iconic, seemingly eternal, landscape of ice and snow is in profound and rapid transition due to climate change.”

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A lovely review of Voyage of Discovery by the Huffington Post includes several images of the diverse media used by these three artists, including these two very different works:

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According to the AAAS gallery website:  ”The artwork in Voyage of Discovery has its roots in the idea of a journey of scientific exploration, in the tradition of Darwin, Wallace, and the thousands of scientists who constantly travel the globe in search of new findings… The pieces in this show… are not strictly based on scientific data.  They reflect the artists’ responses to the transformation of land and sea – the melting of glaciers and the thawing of permafrost, the movement of previously unknown species and microbes into the region, the dramatic shifts of the color of the land from white to green to black.  The artwork takes a broad view of these changes: the artists are deeply aware of the damage done by climate change, yet intrigued by the possibilities of what lies below the ice and snow.”

Follow Joan on Twitter @CleanNergyPhoto and her renewable energy photo blog

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Artists and Climate Change is a blog by playwright Chantal Bilodeau that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

Go to Chantal Bilodeau’s Artists and Climate Change Blog

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