“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela
Throughout this module one thing I am constantly drawn to is environmental and conservational photography, the way it is used to generate change, to empower others to make a difference and to raise awareness of subtle and dynamic changes in the environment.
For this review I have focused on the work of the following whose work both inspires and motivates me.
Dr Patrica and Professor Angus MacDonald
Patricia and Angus capture stunning and powerful images of the world from above, both commissioned and for self-generated environmental work. Their aerial photography documents and records the swiftly changing landscape, raising awareness of the change brought about by environmental and man-made destruction whilst highlighting the beauty of our planet and the need to protect it. They provide a hauntingly beautiful look at the world, the way it is used, the way nature intended it to be and the way man has altered its course. Essentially, I feel, their photography acts as a time capsule, capturing a series of photos over a period of time to be looked at retrospectively and to use as a blue-print of how to move forward.
Their work does not focus on purely individual photographs but among the photos are large composite works and diptychs and triptychs. In my opinion, the use of diptychs and triptychs reinforces the message as can be seen in their triptych “After the Storm.” Shot over a period of thirty years, ‘After the Storm’ was created for an exhibition on the theme of ‘regeneration, recovery and resilience,’ one thing that human and nature both share. It depicts a braided river (that runs through the Glen Feshie in the Cairngorms) and the positive effect the arrival of Cyclone Andrea had on it. One may think that such extreme weather phenomenon’s would serve only as a negative force but this triptych works along others to explore the positive effects such a storm has had on its environment.
Recently they have been returning to locations they have already photographed and re-shooting to document how the landscapes have changed. Whilst based mostly on their own work they have been recreating other environmental photographs. It’s very humbling to see the effects of such people fighting to raise awareness, the role photography plays and even more so when we see that the change over the years is not completely negative. Through their re-shooting of the Cairngorms and in the image above of the Braided River, they could see the transmogrification of the landscape and the comeback of the Caledonian Pinewood which had been threatened by overgrazing of the local deer population.
I read this article by Patrica MacDonald to gain more knowledge of the Ancient Pine trees, the fight to secure a new generation and how it was constantly disrupted by the deer who would sever any saplings preventing such generations from taking root.
Patrica + Angus MacDonald / Aerographica
Perhaps this is my emotional way of seeing things but in this image I feel a sense of pain, a handful of trees stand holding branches back as though warning the other trees, while in the foregound, there is a severed stump, almost like they are mourning the dead. This has a sense of equilibrium in the next image where over a period of time the distant trees are standing and around the trunk bloom new pine trees, flowers at a graveside, showing the resilience of nature, fighting back. Whilst these images are documenting the comeback of pines due to the overgrazing of deer, I feel we are looking at a much darker story of mans need to take, leaving behind this scarred landscape littered with the broken corpses of trees.
Thought – This inspires me even more to focus on de-forrestation in the upcoming assignment.
However with new measures in place to soften the effect of overgrazing such as setting up fences and creating enclosures for the deer, these images delightfully illustrate this comeback. The photos are filled with such energy, from the resurgence of the trees exploding into the photo in a wave of green, blocking out the mountains there is such an echo of hope reiterated throughout. Indeed the comeback of these ancient forests are not only benefitting the Pines themselves but other species such as the Black Grouse and the salmon are making a comeback. Just as an ecosystem can rapidly fall apart when it is disrupted the same is true for how securing the future of one species can make such an ecosystem stronger and set it back on the path nature had intended.
The way a landscape changes can be subtle such as the gentle formation of an Ox Bow lake or it can have devastating shocking effects such as a house plunging off a cliff due to coastal erosion. With this in mind, it’s similar to the way a child grows. If you see the child every day it isn’t until you look at an old photo that you are struck by the change. However if an Aunt doesn’t see their nephew for several months their change in features and height is immediate and there is a certain amount of shock and sadness at the time they have missed as well as regret just as a future generation will look back and may be filled with regret at the state of the planet or more hope and pride at the way environmental photographers and campaigners worked hard to generate change. The same can be said for the landscape, we are part of the earth and rarely notice these changes until we are shown first hand the intense transition, we can see that this is why photography is so essential in leading the fight for the environment.
My course mate, Claire Borlase, was fortunate enough to attend a talk in Oxford where there were several talks by influential and environmental photographers including Dr Patricia and Professor Angus McDonald. Claire wrote on her learning log.
“They (Patricia and Angus) take aerial shots of degraded landscapes to bring them to the attention of the general public. She (Patricia) came to this when someone pointed out to her that a particularly beautiful image of hers, of heather covered mountains in Scotland, was actually a degraded landscape. It used to be forested, but a combination of tree felling, climate change and overgrazing by deer has removed all the other vegetation, leaving something which is beautiful in its own way, but not as nature intended.”
Thank you very much to Patricia and Angus for allowing me to use their images here on my learning log.
A fellow student recommended OCA tutor Andy Hughes who has a great interest in conservational photography. Immediately I bought his book ‘Dominant Wave Theory‘ depicting the ‘Politics of waste‘ which accompanied by essays by world leading scientists feature photographs of litter that Andy Hughes has photographed. I’ve seen on his thought provoking website the pieces of trash and litter looking strangely evocative and I’d go as far as to say, beautiful. At the same time raising awareness in a poignant and artistic manner. It is also made you feel as though it was portraying a dark look at our uncertain future.
Hughes depiction of the landscape through artificial creations and litter fascinates me. One specific image caught my eye, albeit at first I thought it was a plastic bottle before realising it was a condom (which embarrassingly my Mum pointed out as I was excitedly showing her how this plastic bottle represented a fish) The latex was photographed on a patch of sand and was evocative in the sense that it portrayed an essence of a dead fish, highlighting the effects of pollution and littering. The bottle depicts the fish and therefore we can see the two in an imagined transparent link showing how pollution will cause death.
It also ties in well with the issues raised in Steve Backshall’s book Shark Seas, especially the devastating effects of fishing and the irreplaceable cargo it plucks from the seas such as whales and dolphins thus wrecking and causing the delicate environment to be unstable.
A fellow student attended a study visit where John Vidal, The Environmental Editor of The Guardian, was speaking but from her analysis of the speech I can see the talk was very enlighting, I was especially fascinated to hear of the many ages throughout the Twenty and Twenty-First century as we discovered the devastating effects of global warming and environmental issues through the age of Information leading to the Age of Protest and as we find ourself in now, the Age of Blame where everyone forces the blame onto others instead of looking at themselves.
Throughout all of this, photography was the main element paving the way for these new ages, highlighting and documenting the metamorphosis of the planet, enabling people to see first hand the plight our planet is fighting, inspiring and leading to change.
I watched a very interesting documentary on the air pollution of China, the programme began with a rhetorical question, to summarise, why should we work on saving the planet when everything we do is cancelled out by the terrible factories belching out pollution in Asia. As the article went on, however, we learned that many factories are being shut down and even more people are protesting in this movement.
It is, of course, easy to look at the large scale of environmental issues and put the blame on others but as Lemony Snicket wrote in his book ‘The Penultimate Peril’
“Certain people have said that the world is like a calm pond, and that anytime a person does even the smallest thing, it is as if a stone has dropped into the pond, spreading circles of ripples further and further out until the entire world has been changed by one tiny action”
I feel that in the great pond of life the stone dropped in was photography or more the way photography can be used to create change, and it’s ripples reached across the whole world touching each and every single person, some stood like rocks refusing to take heed and the effect went around them, some, like the great environmental photographers listed in this article, were caught up in the wave and found a new journey ahead of them, some were touched briefly but enough to inspire the younger generation to bring about change and normal civilians found themselves brushed by the water, spurning a new ripple, a ripple in their mind of what to do next. And one young photography student attended an environmental show by Steve Backshall which acted like the pebble dropped in the lake of her mind leading her to be writing this sentence right now.