This climate change, and how Art and Photography contribute

This study is
focusing on the Photographers position in educating the current society on the
importance of climate change, and how Art and Photography contribute to this whether
in a positive or negative way. Does creative language work as a platform to
encourage the 21st Century on the importance of our environment and
improve our environment physically? Although not created in the 21st
Century, prehistorically environmental art stemmed from Palaeolithic cave
paintings of animals and their surrounding nature. Landscape paintings emerged
quite radically later on and were first recorded in Venice, from as early as
the 15th Century. John Constables paintings were one of the most
well-known works that contributed to this historical movement in art, he idealized
and connected with the land. Various painters started to connect with nature,
the beauty and the importance of our surroundings. Art became a radical way to
respond to the environment from paintings, sculpting and in the most recent
century, imagery. Environmental art divides into three sections Romanticism
art, Eco-realistic and Gaia Art. They promote interconnectedness on nature as a
beauty, unjustness of the environment being harmed and symbolism in expression.

We are disconnected from the earth and art becomes a visual method to connect
to the greatness of nature and its importance. Photography as a positive creative
language became a tool in the mid to late 1800’s with ‘conservation photography’
by increasing awareness on issues, stemming from global climate change and how
to take action. The evidence in Carleton Watkins work amongst many other
photographers proves proactive artists have made art an awareness scheme. 

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A 21st
Century Photographer named Gideon Mendel is well known as a ‘struggle
photographer’, he created a series called the Drowning World that birthed in 2007. It was an active and personal
response project. He based his topic on world-wide flooding, using art and advocacy
to highlight scientific issues on global climate change. Mendel was “deeply
struck by the contrasting impacts of these floods, and the shared vulnerability
that united their victims…this work is to bear witness to shared human’s
experiences that erases geographical and cultural divides.”1His
work not only shares human experiences but also educates those entities that
are not affected by the natural disaster of flooding, he ensures this through the
practise of his imagery. Mendel’s work has been brought to global attention,
being held in galleries, festivals and used in protests worldwide. Using
photography as a creative language not only has to be a still image but when
interlinked with charities and campaigns worldwide it broadens the educational
aspect on climate change and the importance of physical change. Mendel has
worked with various international organisations including ‘The Global Fund’,
‘Action Aid’ and ‘UNICEF’, to name a few. His work has also been used in the
‘National Geographic magazine’, the ‘Fortune Magazine’ and other additional
magazines. Not only is Mendel a photographer but an activist in the 21st
Century, he is a campaigner for social and environmental change. This is a
clear indicator that photography as a creative language is a useful communicative
tool for educating and a move towards physical change.

Mendel’s long-term
10-year commitment (and continuous) to the Drowning
World series has led him to travel worldwide, his endeavours to create a
more impactful effort on climate change through his portraiture. Mendel’s
strategy is an unusual approach of submerged subjects in flood line waters.

They highlight the surrounding devastation, landscape and destruction of
climate change physically to our environment. The frames include the subjects
(whose homes they may be photographed in) which expresses the mental
reconstruction to the aftermath of the adaption they will undergo as humans. The
plain stare that viewers engage with these portrait subjects is what Mendel
wanted, to connect and try to simply understand through communication of
portraiture. The clear connection of portraits in this series creates order in
disorder and the impact of human kind partaking in change.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2
Gideon Mendel- Chinta and Samundri Davi, Drowning
World

This is just one
image from Mendel’s series, Drowning
World, of two humans drastically affected by climate change. The central
focus of this image is the two subjects, Chinta and Samundri Davi. The subjects
are surrounded by an unknown and disconcerting atmosphere. In return, this
image reflects their facial expression, a life that has been turned upside down
not only metaphorically but also in the water. The interpretation of the reflections
of the subjects in the flood water emphasises the physical environmental effect.

The composition of the submerged portraits and of the series, are all centrally
focused with blurred backgrounds. This describes the importance of focusing and
caring on each other, while their surrounding and future are unknown and
blurred. It connects the images well, expressing that experiences are erased by
geographical placement. Subtly throughout Mendel’s series of portraits, the
flood line slowly disintegrates demonstrating the periods of when the flood has
hit and when Mendel is able to arrive and photograph. The uncertainty of his
work brings along struggles but also represents that climate change is ever
changing. Viewers make a meaning in the practise of viewing these images, in
response it depends if they are personally affected enough to make a stand
themselves against climate change. Mendel states in an interview with Lens
Cultural “photography gave me an ability to act”3.

This highlights that art as a visual resource for communicating change is most
certainly apparent in the 21st Century.

Our planet is in a
vulnerable state, as a substantial amount of ‘countries are in a constant
battle for survival against nature’s relentless forces.’4 One
of these relentless forces is the continual rise in sea levels. The National
Geographic inform us regularly on the statistical satellite measurements of
which our environment is in a constant transformation. On average, within the
last 20 years the sea has risen by 0.13 inches per year, a staggering rate
which is twice the average speed it should be. Global Mean Sea Level (GMSL) is
on a continues rise due to climate change, an astonishing percentage of 80% of
additional heat is released into the ocean. This is due to fossil fuels and
other human activities, this causes the ocean to expand from overheating and
produce excessive melting.

The main reason
for the GMSL to be rising is due to three main factors: Thermal Expansion, this
is the process of the ocean heating up and expanding, which in return occupies
more space. Melting Glacier’s and Polar Ice Caps is the second factor, the
summers are getting longer and the temperatures are getting increasingly higher
causing global warming. This constricts the amount of snow fall and refreezing
in the shortened winter months. The imbalance in the oceans evaporation
tributes to the sea levels rising. Ice Loss from the Greenland and West
Antarctica is the third attribute to sea levels rising, causing flooding and
destruction of habitats. The lands are covered in ice sheets; this means they
are melting at a considerable abnormal rate. Scientists believe below these
lands ice streams are moving the remaining ice sheets into the ocean considerable
quicker. This results in the ice sheets beginning to melt, weaken and then
start to break off, increasing sea levels again.5 It
is a constant battle of humans creating climate change due to their lifestyles,
the planet changing and then us humans being effected negatively and at a loss.

Statistics and facts play a huge part in informing and helping the educational
process on informing on climate change. This is why the importance of awareness
is such a key factor in educating and moving forward as a positive and
encouraging environment.

The publicity of
the ever-changing environmental affects, is a key power to educating the planet
on our effects and foundations to change. Higher sea levels cause bigger and
more powerful storms which strip everything away. Photographer Robert Polidori,
is a key photographer, who works with the environment and human habitats.

Polidori can capture within one frame a visual that could express 1000 words. In
one of his studies he records the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina it was named, New Orleans After the Flood. This was an
intimate series illustrating destruction of homes and families from New Orleans’
natural disaster. The project included 20 full exposure, large scale prints
that were captured on a large format camera using only natural day light. They
express saddened lives and the ‘failures of society.’6
One image from this 20-print project, depicts the internal damage of the inside
of a home that remains standing after Hurricane Katrina. The detail captured of
an unsettling, unrelaxing, unwarm living room is the complete opposite description
of what is traditionally expected for this room. This is a clear representative
of what the effects on flooding is in unwelcomed spaces. The space becomes
hostile and inhabitable; the space is in a paralyzed state.

 

 

 

 

 

 

7
Robert Ploidori-5417 Marigny Street, New
Orleans, Louisiana,

 New Orleans After the Flood

The attitude of
the environment has always been a questionable subject. Keith Thomas, author of
the book Man and the Natural World:
Changing Attitudes in England 1500-1800 is a key illustration on theory, how
we used to read our environment compared to today in the 21st
Century. The “order of creation intended solely for the benefit and enjoyment
of man’ or ‘a view that all natural things had an importance in their own
right.’8 Thomas
explains that it has become obvious that due to mankind faults; the environment
is changing in a negative way. The selfish society of the ‘wants’ instead of ‘needs’,
create a space of unnatural change effecting all inhabitants on this earth, it
becomes a ‘man-centre world.’9
This book shows in evidence how mankind could not have moved forward without
improvising with the environment. For example, Keith Thomas talks about deforestation
and how with it we’re effecting our environment negatively, but then without it
we would of not be able to adapt, create shelter or work. The book overall
describes how these issues have been apparent and had taken root centuries ago.

These methods of understanding have influenced environmental activists and
historians. If writing as a creative language has enabled minds to be educated
from historical development surely it would help communicate the importance of
environmental education today.

A contemporary and
current photographer who has visually played a contribution to documenting the
climate change is Sarker Protick in his series called, Of River and Lost Land10.

He illustrated the physical effect on land, homes and inhabitants in the
villages near Ishurdi District, along the Padma River which flows in the
southeast of Asia for 120 kilometres. The visual concept that he puts across is
publicising that residents in their own lands are becoming refugees. The
monsoon seasons, or more commonly known as the summer months between July and
September steal so many lives and critical areas of land at a time. River bank
erosions are caused by the heavy rainfalls that India endures, but the rising
sea levels increase the rain fall subsiding the increase in mass rivers and
floods. It not only destroys lives but the quality of life. Physical health, family,
education and employment that are all connecting to the environment to begin
with are interrupted. Protick’s photography reflects what Michelangelo
Buonarroti’s painting The Flood11
(1508-1512) was trying to achieve. Although Buonarroti’s painting is a painterly
representative of the effects on the environment, the connotations are the same
of Protick’s. A painting that express’s the hardships of those who are unable
to escape, sweeping their world away. This is a biblical dictation that is
based on the book of Genesis, preserved on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

It is a controversial BC (Before Christ) connection to climate change today and
some have come to the conclusion it is not a coincidence. In reputation to what
Keith Thomas wrote in his book Man and
the Natural World, this evidence on environmental change has been apparent
from periods ago. This proves that centuries ago creative writing and paintings
influenced people’s opinions and educational ideas on our environment and the
ongoing climate change consequences.

Climate Change
activists today fear that there will be a disastrous flood. For example,
Houston Texas declared “it’s not if, it’s when”12  in Tom Darts article13 on
Sam Brody. Brody is a flood impact expert based in Houston Texas and a
Professor in the Department of marine Science Texas A&M University of
Galveston. Houston is an area in the United States of America which experiences
the most causalities and property damage due to flooding, dating back to 1960.

Unfortunately, if the use of emissions in the US continue to rise, flooding
will become a regular occurrence. In the positive process to help inform or
perhaps make a point to improve climate change, Brody is in the process of
creating an app to support this cause. It is an app based on the risk score information,
in relation to nearby floods to your postal code area. Not a significantly
massive impact in discontinuing climate change but helping those who would be
effected. He clearly communicates through methods of creativity the urgency of
climate change. Body’s works is one example of many, that not only the arts are
a method on communication on environmental issues. Another 21st
Century activist, Michelle Bogre who wrote the book Photography as Activism14
is known for her documentary photography. Bogre studies the use of the
camera by activists and social reformers. It reads, how the camera has become an
active research tool in the investigation for social reform. Within the book Photography as Activism, Bogre explains
the earliest use of camera in activism including prominent imagery and renowned
activists from Eugene Richards to Stephen Dupont to name a few. This study of
work is a communicative tool for artists with a cause, how they’ve expressed
over the years the impact art can have in all forms of life politically, in
reform and for research. It has become a way that people can visually connect
without any barriers and that artists can express environmental change without
words.

The Cape Farewell
Project, is one that works as a cultural response on climate change. They say,
“one salient image, novel, song…can speak louder than volumes of scientific
data and engage the public’s imagination in an immediate way.”15
Creativity is an innovative language to connect to a large population of
people. Visually we record and remember ‘30%’16
of what we see in our memory, this is a significant enough figure to argue for
this remarkable visual language. One installation piece curated and exhibited
in connection to the Cape Farewell Project was the The Clement World17
by Cynthia Hopkins in 2014. A multi-media, accolade piece demonstrating
through visuals and sounds the rapidly altering environment. Hopkins work was
“a feast for the senses, as crisp and breath-taking as an episode of Planet
Earth.”18
It was a sped up moving image expressing our global climate crisis, in most
parts truthful however Hopkins also used exaggeration to convey her opinion on
what might happen if there is no change. The underlying scientific aims of
Hopkins’ work may not be read fully by the viewer, thus possibly creating a
false educational interpretation. Arguing this point it does not say it isn’t an
important contributing factor to the education of the environment.

The combination of
the efficient examination including historical, artistic, scientific and activists’
reviews express that this study on Photography as a creative language to
communicate the urgency of global climate change (21st Century) is
very broad. Visual language as a form of communication expresses factual and
fictional qualities. The evidence highlighted in this study show that physical
data records, experiences, artists and researchers can prove climate change,
but it is also valid that visual language is an incredible tool on its own.

Victor Pinchuk said “Art, freedom and creativity will change society faster
than politics”19,
movements occur when art is made. For example, Mendel’s series Drowning World he promoted an
educational first hand but visual response to climate change which was
favorited by protesters in demonstrations. Creative language does work as a
platform to encourage the world today on the importance of our environment and to
make a physically improvement on climate change. It is the visual stand that
stays in people’s memories and this exploration has poised this theory.

1 Mendel, G. ‘Drowning
World’ Online http://gideonmendel.com/  10th
December 2017

 

 

2Mendel,
G. (2007). Chinta and Samundri Davi.

image Available at: http://gideonmendel.com/submerged-portraits/ 10th
December 2017

3 Strecker, A. Mendel, G.

‘Drowning World’ Online lensculture.com 3rd
January 2018

4Mourby, A. ‘What is the world’s
most vulnerable city?’ Online https://www.theguardian.com/uk/environment
4th January 2018

5 National Geographic. ‘Sea
Level Rise’ Online https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/sea-level-rise/
3rd January 2018

6 The Met Museum.

‘Exhibition Overview’ Online https://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2006/robert-polidori 20th December 2017

7Polidori, R. (2006). 5417 Marigny Street, New Orleans, Louisiana.

image Available at: http://www.robertpolidori.com/ 20th
December 2017

8 Tomas, K. Man and the Natural World: Changing
Attitudes in England 1500-1800, Penguin UK, 1991.

9 Tomas, K. Man and the Natural World: Changing
Attitudes in England 1500-1800, Penguin UK, 1991.

10 Protick, S. ‘Of River
and Lost Land’ Online https://www.ignant.com/2014/10/31/of-river-and-lost-lands-by-sarker-protick/ 7th
December 2017

 

11 Buonarroti,
M. ‘The Flood’, painted between 1508-1512.

12Gabbat, A. ‘What makes
Houston so vulnerable to floods?’ Online https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/aug/28/houston-harvey-risk-floods-analysis
3rd January 2018

13 Darts, T. ‘Climate
Change’ Online https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jun/16/texas-flooding-houston-climate-change-disaster 10th
January 2018

14 Bogre, M. Photography as Activism, Elsevier
Science, 2011.

15Cape Farewell
Foundation. ‘Climate Change’ Online http://www.capefarewell.com/ 7th
January 2018

16 Hollingworth, A. (eds) Luck,
S. (eds), ? Visual Memory, Oxford University
Press, 2008.

17 The Clement
World. Exhibition by Cynthia Hopkins, Toronto: Royal Ontario Museum, 2014.

18 Hopkins, S. ‘This
Clement World’ Online http://www.capefarewell.com/who-we-are/creatives/793-cynthia-hopkins.html
5th January 2018

19Pinchuk, V. ‘Founder’
Online http://www.futuregenerationartprize.org/en/founder
9th January 2018

 

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