Tropic IceAn artsy dialog between places affected by Climate Change
What do the inhabitants of the Amazonian basin have in common with the Inuit of Greenland? In addition to being directly affected by climate change, both are also participating in a spectacular art project. Read More
Global warming, climate change, the greenhouse effect – our planet’s changing climate dominated the headlines the world over while extremely heavy monsoon rains flooded India and hurricanes Irma and Harvey wreaked swathes of destruction. And though Donald Trump continues to insist that these are simply normal weather patterns, crowing “where the hell is global warming?!” at the fall of every snowflake, the majority of the world’s population now agrees it is much more serious. Our climate has shifted since modern record-keeping began and human beings have played a part.
Yet most of us find the topic hard to truly grasp unless a hurricane has just made landfall. Aside from natural disasters, reports tend to use statistics, charts and pictures of animals to illustrate the terrible effects of global warming. Few feature the people who are directly affected. But can data alone actually raise awareness of this issue? And what do viewers really take away?
These questions served as photojournalist Barbara Dowmbrowski’s inspiration. For years she has explored the best way to photograph climate change with the greatest visual impact. The response has been less that supportive: “Are you crazy, no one cares about that crap!” And this has been one of the nicer comments she has had to field.
On the other hand, this lack of understanding clearly shows that reporting on climate change is not reaching the average listener, and few seem to feel it affects them personally. Back in the mid-2000s, Barbara recalls her search for the right subject: “I wasn’t interested in photographing natural disasters; it is not a great way to reach people.” She wanted to portray people, not victims. Put a face to the issue without the typical play for sympathy. Create a format that generated empathy for global warming in the viewer.
“Are you crazy, no one cares about that crap!”
Ultimately she chose portraits as her medium. Portraits of people from regions directly and seriously affected by climate change, but not in the form of a natural disaster. She envisioned a project that portrayed people in their environments and livings paces as these changed over time due to the effects of climate change, a snapshot depicting what remained. Barbara’s goal was to bring the photographs together in an installation that would bridge the gap between the affected regions, an ambitious project that would take many years.
Barbara planned to visit every continent. She started in eastern Greenland, a region she had always wanted to visit. As luck would have it, she met someone from the region at the opposite end of the earth during a visit to Ethiopia, who put her in touch with others there. The Amazonian basin was her next destination. For a number of years, she would return to spend three weeks with locals, taking very personal pictures of the Achuar in Ecuador and the Inuit in the no longer so eternal ice of Greenland.
She returned in 2013, her luggage filled with huge canvases featuring the portraits she planned to bring together in installations designed for regional conditions.
In Ecuador, she mounted her huge portraits in the trees, where the larger-than-life images of the Inuit and Achuar looked down on all passers-by. Barbara called her exhibition Tropic Ice, a name that reflects the link formed between the two regions.
An iceberg seemed the ideal setting in Greenland – a dream that almost didn’t come true. “The weather was terrible. We couldn’t take the boat out to sea, and I got more anxious with each passing day. Finally, my flight home was just two days off and the sea just wouldn’t calm down.” Barbara and her crew took to the water anyway. To place the canvasses on the iceberg, they would have to sail very close to it and mount and adjust them with long screws. But the roiling waves wouldn’t let them get close enough, and it began to look like portraits were not going to get hung. “We were just about to give up. Then we sailed around a corner and suddenly found ourselves in a little bay where there was no wind and the sea was completely calm. Perfect conditions.” In an unforgettable moment, a finback whale surfaced as they were working, as if to show approval for the project: “It was a moment of pure magic.”
Barbara will be hitting the road again soon, this time to Gobi desert in Mongolia and Kiribati in Vanuatu to begin a new series: “Desert Sea”. Ultimately she hopes to bring all her portraits together as an installation in Tanzania.