World’s leading nature photographers speak out for climate action at the International Photography Festival in Sharjah
Sharjah, UAE – XPOSURE’s International Photography Festival has opened its biggest ever edition with 357 world’s top and emerging photographers in Sharjah, UAE.
With events such as workshops taking photographers for a shoot in the desert scenery, a packed programme of talks, workshops and award-wining photography on display, the planet’s future is the big theme.
As the world leaders gather for what is seen as possibly the most consequential week for climate change action in New York next week, some of the world’s most renowned names in photography are lending their imagery and voices to the conversation.
Documenting melting glaciers, disappearing species and habitats, human-animal conflict and human displacement, they hope their work will make the public feel the pull to protect them.
Florian Ledoux is a wildlife photographer who has sailed over 6000 miles from the coast of Greenland to document the Arctic wildlife.
His aerial images document the rapid decline in ice, revealing polar animals and their habitats in ways not seen before.
What drives him is his desire to reconnect people to nature, he senses that this has been lost for many and he believes that connection is one that is critical for real action on climate.
“If we are not connected to nature we won’t change the way we are living”, Ledoux said. “If you are part of something you don’t want to destroy it.”
One of his most iconic images shows a polar bear crossing two chunks of ice.
The beautiful patches of turquoise surrounding it are sections of melting ice and offer a painful evidence of fragility of Arctic glaciers.
“Ice in the Arctic are already fragile in a way that it can be gone in just just one moment like that. It’s melting so quickly. This is the fragility of our world because when we lose this, we will change so many things in the climate.”
In a heatwave reaching Greenland this summer, nearly 60% of the ice sheet had at least 1mm melted on the surface in just one day on the 31st of July, according to National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Colorado and the Polar Portal.
The amount of ice lost on two record consecutive days during the heatwave would be sufficient to cover Florida with almost five inches of water or Denmark with half a meter, according to climate scientist Martin Stendel.
“We need change right now. There is no time to wait or to say that we have time or we can do it later, it has to be now”, said Ledoux.
Frans Lanting, hailed as one of the great nature photographers of our time and a environmental economist by background, has documented ecological hot spots from India to New Zealand in breath-taking imagery for over 40 years.
Taking us visually to the Antarctic, he speaks of connections between melting ice and wildlife. “Emperor penguins are totally dependent on sea ice. That’s what they gather to reproduce themselves. They never touch solid ground and as the ice disappears so will emperor penguins.”
But the biggest message is that all habitats are interconnected. “Ultimately climate change is not just about the lives of emperor penguins and polar bears. It is about us. It’s going to affect everyone on the planet no matter where you live”, Lanting said.
In his signature series “Day to Night”, one of America’s most iconic photographers Stephen Wilkes, digitally blends thousands of images shot over a 36-hour period into one photograph, capturing the life in that habitat.
“It is about creating a visceral experience for you, the viewer. I want you to feel like you are standing there with me.”
His images take months of scouting, preparation and construction to be shot.
They also bring Wilkes into unexpected close encounters, like that with a curious grizzly bear on a shoot in Bella Coola in British Columbia.
“It was terrifying at one moment and then incredibly exciting because I felt this incredible gift,” Wilkes said. “It’s not just about the photograph of a bear. It is a photograph about the way bears lived one this particular day.”
“People think of grizzly bears as not being endangered. But the truth is their habitats are endangered”, Wilkes said.
With over 1 million plant and animal species threatened with extinction, the action from governments is slow.
Underscoring the complexity of the challenge, some conservationists say there is danger that climate action might produce solutions that are not friendly to protecting biodiversity.
For Wilkes, the ultimate aim is to inspire change.
“We’re reaching a critical path in our history as humanity goes. And so my work now is dedicated to showing people what’s really happening through beauty. I want to inspire change”.
The Festival sponsors a Timothy Allen Photography Scholarship Award (TAPSA), a worldwide search for emerging photographers.
One of the five winners, Greek photographer Anna Pantelia, has turned her attention to the thorny subject of energy transition in her home country.
Despite coal being the single biggest contributor to anthropogenic climate change, Greece has recently made an investment into construction of two new plants.
Pantelia documents both the human cost of coal’s pollution and her region’s dependency on coal for jobs and livelihoods.
“I want to speak with people that have been falling sick out of the coal mining and people that they have lost family members. I want people to get disturbed and I want the decision-makers to be disturbed and think of how we should move forward with the coal mining.”
Kathy Moran, the Deputy Director of Photography at National Geographic, says the role of photography is to provide visual evidence of what is happening to the world.
“I think people need to see what’s happening. Here at Xposure, on the pages of National Geographic, the photography is the proof that the world is changing rapidly.”
Moran, as with many photographers at Xposure, feel excited by the momentum generated by the youth protest movement sweeping the globe.
“There’s a very special moment right now around the Global Climate Strike and these young voices coming up and needing to be heard. I’m hoping that that is what’s going to grab people’s attention and make them start paying attention again to what is happening.”