“We have a moral responsibility”: meet the photographers who open our eyes to the climate crisis

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With the long-awaited summit of COP26 Around the corner, conversations about climate change are intensifying on social media. It can be somewhat overwhelming to read the endless statistics that expose the true extent of the climate chaos we all face.

While these numbers are shocking, it’s often difficult to really visualize how things like CO2 levels impact the landscapes around us. It is virtually impossible to understand the damage to our planet without being able to see the visual effects environmental crises.

For decades, photography has been an important and powerful medium for telling the unspeakable, revealing stories through a lens. The expression “a picture is worth a thousand words” may be a cliché, but in the case of climate photography, the statement is very true.

We spoke with four photographers whose practices offer exclusive insight into the effects of ecological crises occurring around the world:

  • Claudio Ghiglione, a polar scientist who studies to preserve the beautiful landscapes he also photographs.
  • Cory lescher, an outdoor adventurer who donates 50 percent of his photography sales each month to various charities.

  • Kilian Jornet, a record-breaking mountaineer who uses photography and image sales to raise awareness of environmental issues and raise funds for his foundation.

  • Pierre Naik, diving instructor and animal guide. During his dives, he also takes stunning images of Australian marine life.

How is photography used to shape the narrative on environmental issues?

[Claudio Ghiglione] The language of science is too complicated for the community, and not easily accessible for everyone, and for this reason often the message does not arrive. Thanks to the images, the problem is often “more tangible”.

[Cory Lescher] Many of us are familiar with the expression “a picture is worth a thousand words”, this has never been truer than in the face of climate change we are all witnessing today.

A single photograph has the power to trigger deep emotion in individuals, and if that is enough for one person to stop, think and act, then this photograph was worth more than a thousand words in my opinion.

[Kílian Jornet] One of the key factors of sustainability remains awareness. Photography is a very visual way of showing the changes nature is facing and showing what we need to preserve.

[Peter Naik] Reading statistics about plastic in the ocean will never communicate the problems the same way seeing photographs of animals feeding on plastic in the ocean. Photography makes environmental problems visible to the world and proves that these problems are real.

What are the technical challenges when photographing in remote and often extreme conditions?

[Claudio Ghiglione] The greatest threats come from temperature, humidity, water and wind, variables present at any latitude but here taken to the extreme. However, all of this leads me to understand the importance of having professional equipment and also having a quick and easy setup available at all times.

[CL] It’s not just your photo spot in your backyard where you can run around every night, but a lot goes into planning these trips and you need to make the most of every photo opportunity that presents itself.

[KJ] Especially to get there. This can involve technical climbing skills, endurance to go far, speed to catch the right light, risk assessment to get to the filming location safely, etc.

[PN] There are challenges related to the equipment, the weather, and the animals themselves.

It is also crucial to make sure that you are prepared for the weather conditions, that you have the right protection from the elements and that you have all the appropriate safety gear for the environment you enter.

Do you think more photographers should base their practice on activism?

[CG] Personally, I do not use my images to protest or dispute but rather use my images to create books, exhibitions and events that can stimulate people’s interest, and therefore awareness, for places far away or particular topics.

[CL] Activism and education through art, like photography, is a powerful tool but I don’t think that’s necessarily what every photographer should pursue.

[KJ] Absolutely, photographers have a great influence through their work. Photos are seen by many and in social media many follow photographers due to the beauty of the photos and it is a great platform to share our concerns on social or environmental issues.

[PN] I believe that nature and wildlife photographers have a moral responsibility to stand up for their subjects. If we benefit from wildlife through artistic creation, we owe it to the natural world to do our best to take care of it and to try to convince others to do the same.

That being said, I also understand that many photographers might not be able to ground their practice in activism due to various factors that could include financial reasons, mental health, or even just a lack of time.

What advice do you think all photographers should know?

[CG] A thorough knowledge of the subject is fundamental to plan as much as possible the situation and all the variables and to get the cliché you have in mind.

[CL] Believe in yourself and in your photos. Photography is a growing activity and hobby for more and more people every year, but that doesn’t mean anyone should be intimidated or less proud of their own work.

[KJ] When it comes to showing environmental issues, don’t be afraid to share our thoughts. Many are afraid to talk about the climate crisis because photographers often travel a lot and will be criticized.

But it is important to talk about it, to get the message across to the responsibility of governments and companies.

[PN] Know your subject; I think in order to be successful in photographing anything, a photographer must first understand that subject.

What message do you want to convey through your work?

[CG] I like to use my images, supported by my knowledge of polar science, as a teaching method to reach as many people as possible and to communicate with the next generation, people and institutions about what is happening in these particular areas. .

[CL] I strive to bring people closer to the natural world through my photographs and in doing so, I hope to inspire viewers to want to protect the beautiful world we live in and the wildlife that lives on this planet alongside us.

[KJ] We have an amazing and beautiful planet full of diversity, and we must act now if we are to ensure that future generations benefit from what we can enjoy today.

[PN] Through my work, I hope to inspire others to see the natural world the same way I do. Like a beautiful and fragile network of living beings who breathe, who deserve to live their lives without prejudice due to human activities.


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