Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Earth has a fever. Do you?

"I imagine myself as an old man sitting on a rocking chair. And I hear my daughters saying to me, 'What were you doing when this monumental change was happening?' And I'd like to be able to say... that I was doing everything I knew how to do with the skills that I had."  (Photographer James Balog, on addressing climate change now)


Every so often, an exceptional person uses a camera in a way that really stabs at me, keeping me awake at night. Photojournalist / nature photographer / mountaineer James Balog does just that with his visual creation, "Chasing Ice." I was once young and skilled and driven, and what did I do with all that chit? I chased testosterone (sports photography) and estrogen (female companionship). Maybe I should have done something, oh I don't know, useful, instead.

Like a little five-year photo project. Like using 34 Nikons to shoot a still frame once every hour, 27/7 for years, and meticulously assembling the frames into time-lapse videos. Like documenting the disappearance of 15 glaciers in Montana, Alaska, Iceland and Greenland.

Like stepping into the crosshairs of the monied interests to make a stand for, literally, your children. Christians call it, "bearing witness." Buddhists might consider it part of maha-bodhi, or "attaining great awakening." Conservationists often describe it as "giving voice" to an imperiled landscape or endangered species. 

Don't these ideals sound like cool uses for a camera?  What would be a cool thing for you to do with your camera?  Make free portraits for the poor?  Photograph dying infants for their parents?  Empower physically challenged adults?  Give voice to impoverished Americans?  What is "IT" for you?  Can you do it?

James Balog and his project equipment
James Balog and his project equipment
James Balog did it. Is doing it. He started out as a self-described climate change skeptic. Then he got curious. So he focused his skill set on examining the question. And he used his connections to leverage one man's quest into a team effort. One or two cameras turned into 25 Nikon D200's, a few D2X's, and a film crew. The "Chasing Ice" documentary - with all of its technical challenges - was just the first half of his project.

The second half is the actually hardest part. It includes hauling his film, photos and videos around the U.S. (Fortunately, the rest of the world is years ahead of us on this one.) Showing this evidence to the disinterested, educating the ignorant, getting us selfish slobs to turn off the TV and pay attention. To do any of this, Balog has to swim upstream into the torrent of disinformation and propaganda that spews out of the fossil fuels industry, and out of their purchased politicians and pundits.

Doesn't that sound like a pleasant way to spend a good chunk of one's working years? No?  Then how about "valuable?" Remember, success can be so much more than NPPA awards, website stats, or National Geographic covers. Balog was once a young, amateur photographer - just like many of us.  If he can use his camera to nudge the world in different direction, why can't you?  Or me.  And that's what stabs.  I could have been so much more... useful.

"Chasing Ice" website
Extreme Ice Survey website
Democracy Now interview
ABC News coverage
Review of "Chasing Ice"

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