Wednesday, June 10, 2009

DUMBO Photo Exhibit Grapples With How to Portray Climate Change

The term “climate change” is used often these days, in conjunction with “global warming” and “extreme weather.” Sure, we know that the earth is hotter today than it has been in the past four hundred years, the polar ice caps are melting and sea levels are rising. But what does it all actually look like? Most of us don’t have the means or ability to see the effects of climate change, we usually just hear about it.

The current photography exhibition at the Henry Gregg Gallery in DUMBO, entitled “Visualizing Climate Change,” brings powerful images from around the world to Brooklyn. Work of photographers Gary Braasch, Ashley Cooper, Benjamin Drummond, Peter Essick, Steve Kazlowski and Joshua Wolfe is on display, with subjects ranging from polar bears, to glaciers, to forest fires.

Brooklyn-based photographer Wolfe explained that, as members of GHG (which stands for greenhouse gas) Photos, these photographers deal with the basic question of: “How do you portray something that’s happening as gradually as climate change?”

“For me, a lot of it is trying to explain through images not just that climate change is all extreme weather all the time and a polar bear,” Wolfe explained. “There’s more depth to it, the issue is more complex, there are a lot of factors going into it.

“Any of us working individually can’t create such a complete or such a nuanced picture of climate change,” he continued. “Our goal is to present people with what’s going on, to give a more complete picture.”

On one wall of the gallery is a photo by Wolfe of an oil pump in the foreground and a group of wind turbines in the background (above). Another by Kazlowski — whom Wolfe calls “the best polar bear photographer in the world” — is a member of the threatened species swimming in the Beaufort Sea in the Arctic Ocean. Yet another by Cooper shows a man knee deep in water in his South Yorkshire kitchen, searching for food after floods in the summer of 2007.

Hanging on another wall of the gallery is a series of before and after photos of glaciers, taken by Wolfe and Braasch, portraying the stark decrease in glacier size over the years.

Using photography as the medium to portray climate change was challenging, says Wolfe. “If you look at photojournalism, we really thrive on an event. We thrive on a conflict. We know how to do wars, we know how to do protests, to a lesser extent, we know how to do celebrities,” he said. “Gradual, decade-long, century-long, year long changes aren’t things that photojournalism is necessarily comfortable with.”

Adding to the difficulty, Wolfe says, is that in some cases it’s hard to tell if something like extreme weather is climate change or not. “With hurricanes or forest fires or droughts, is this just noise in the system or is this definitively climate change?” he asked, which is the reason for pairing before and after photos of glaciers, or juxtaposing a picture of a forest fire in Greece with a satellite image of more fires ravaging the country.

Collaboration with Henry Gregg Gallery director André Martinez-Reed gives the show a different perspective: “He’s relating to the images in a different way than I do,” Wolfe said. “André mixed them up to make a layered and more nuanced story.”

“Each individual show has its own spirit, its own energy,” said Martinez-Reed. “With Visualizing Climate Change, it gives people a chance to experience something that’s going on in the world that probably they wouldn’t normally have an opportunity to experience.”

“We have this unique experience to view a lot of the things going on with climate change that the average person can’t see,” Wolfe said. “We’re changing the way people look at things around them.”

Visualizing Climate Change will be on view at the Henry Gregg Gallery at 111 Front St., Suite 226, in DUMBO through June 21. The exhibit is also on view at the Port Authority building at the corner of 42nd St and 8th Ave in Manhattan. Wolfe will be speaking at this Thursday’s Nerd Nite at Galapagos Art Space in DUMBO about climate change.

Photo above by Joshua Wolfe, courtesy of GHG Photos

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