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As many followers of my work and my blog will know, much of my work falls within the category of environmental photography. As talks begin in Copenhagen today, on the immediate future plans of our governments to tackling climate change, it seemed appropriate to write a special blog post on photographing climate issues in China. In between the text are some of my favourite images from my work on climate change here in China.
It seems that photographing climate issues have become quite a trendy topic recently. Magnum photographer Martin Parr recently described it as “as hip as it gets” in a recent blog post (via/ the excellent Duckrabbit, who do sterling work on Climate issues in Bangladesh, by the way). This is all unsurprising really. Climate change is the story of our generation and it’s a bandwagon that everyone should be jumping on. Our responsibility as photographers comes with truly understanding the issues we are photographing and being clear in the message that we are trying to convey with our pictures.
I like to think I have a slight advantage in covering climate issues as my educational background stems from that direction. My interest in the sciences stemmed from high school in northern rural England and was fuelled by a degree in Zoology. Whilst many of my course colleagues and friends went off into scientific research, teaching and working for science journals, I decided to follow my passion for photography. I naturally gravitated towards photographing environmental issues. Now, my bookshelves are lined with as many books about photography as about science.
Today, I find myself in China photographing from the front line of climate change. During my time in the country, I have photographed air pollution, desertification, environmental refugees, sandstorms, disappearing grasslands, wind power, solar manufacturing etc. all key instruments and factors in the myriad of ways China is involved with how our world is changing.
I really do hope that some kind of concrete and progressive agreements will be agreed upon this week which start to push us in the right direction, however I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t skeptical and a little pessimistic. What can I do? How can I make even a jot of difference? Well, it is up to me to try and get my work out there. ‘Out there’ in the sense of getting it in front of the eyes of people that matter. That includes you. I want you to see what I am seeing and witnessing here in China and present it in a way that is clear, reasoned and visually arresting. Why? Because we should all know what is happening to our planet. What happens here in China affects you, wherever you may be reading this from.
This week, my work on desertification will be shown in Copenhagen as part of the Earth Journalism Awards. I received an honorable mention for my work on “China’s Growing Sands” and I am delighted visitors to the summit will have a chance to view my images from my work on desertification. This will be my small contribution. As I have blogged about before however, I am increasingly pushing this work online and in print into as many different outlets as possible, trying to spread the word.
My single goal as a photographer is assist in the understanding between cultures and people. It’s a simple goal. I have no delusions that I think my photography ‘will change the world’ but I hope that it informs and increases awareness. I just want to understand the world better myself. I hope when others look at my images, they can understand it more with me. With a camera in my hand, I think I can do this and do my part. As one of my heroes, the late Magnum photographer Philip Jones Griffith’s, said, “You have to leave this world a better place.” Let’s hope our leaders do.