A New Book and Film Showcase the Planet’s Melting Ice

Photograph by James Balog/Extreme Ice Survey

A New Book and Film Showcase the Planet’s Melting Ice

Photographer James Balog captures climate change's affect on glaciers.

By Susan Cosier
Published: 10/26/2012

For the last three decades photographer and mountaineer James Balog has been documenting environmental issues. His most recent project, one begun seven years ago with no end in sight, focuses on what he considers to be one of the biggest issues of our time: global warming. Ice: Portraits of Vanishing Glaciers, and an accompanying documentary, Chasing Ice, are both part of his Extreme Ice Survey, a photographic effort that gives what Balog is calling a "visual voice" to our changing world. Audubon caught up with Balog to discuss his passion for the planet and his craft.

 

Why did you start this particular project?

Having initially been a bit indifferent to the climate change story about 20 years ago, I eventually became aware that it was real because I took the time to learn of the ancient climate record that was preserved in ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica. I then started to cast around for how you would photograph that. After some years of research I realized that the only thing I could think of that took the story and put it into three dimensions was ice. There were situations where I really could evoke and feel the change and decay and retreat of glaciers in places like Iceland, Greenland, and Alaska.

What do you mean you could 'feel' it?

You could look at the shapes of these things, and you could see and translate them into your bones. I mean they were crumbling in front of your eyes. You could see stakes [indicating where the ice had been] that had been put in the ground by Norwegian glacier watchers in previous years, and you could see how the landscape was no longer occupied by the ice as it had been. This one particular glacier had a dying ice edge that to me felt like old men dying.

 Do you think other people who see such a tangible sign of climate change feel the same way you do?

I think if they had the knowledge and took the time to really go slowly and contemplate, I think most people would feel that. The problem is that most people don't. They go out with a climbing guide and put on crampons, and it's a big adventure. They're not dealing with the glacier as an object that's in a state of evolution. But that's what artists are supposed to do. We're supposed to have our antennae up and we're supposed to find and feel and make images of those kinds of things. That's our job.

Why did you decide to focus on glaciers?

I went to graduate school in geomorphology, the study of landforms and how they're made. I went into that field of study because I was fascinated by the mountains and polar regions. Subsequently as a mountaineer I've traveled the world--South America, Asia, Alaska, Canada, the Alps--climbing mountains. And I've looked at a lot of glaciers and had my feet on a lot of glaciers. For photographic assignments, intermittently, I've done a lot of things that involved ice and snow, so I was emotionally and psychologically engaged with these kinds of landscapes. This project became the synthesis of all the main currents of my life: my interest in the arts, my interest in mountaineering and adventure, and my interest in the science.

Do you think that even in decay there is a beauty?

It's beautiful in an existential way. It's beautiful just as an observer of the world to realize that you've been thrust into geologic-scale change, which is something that you normally think you'll never get to see. Here you are, by your fate and your destiny, put into a position where you actually see it, and record it, and you live it and feel it. All art of any real depth and consequence has dealt with the fundamental issues of existence. Mortality, trying to understand what the hell mortality is about, has been one of the great subjects that has fueled art since the beginning of art. When you're looking at these glaciers and you're feeling their mortality, you're feeling your own mortality. My own manifestation of this exploration of my own mortality is implicitly reflected in these pictures.

What do you hope people respond to your images?

I hope to seduce the viewers with beauty, bring them into your circle of enthusiasm and interest, and then as they learn what the pictures about, learn what the stories are behind the pictures, then it gives me a window through which I can deliver the other story, the factual story. I want to pull people in first and then I want them to get pulled into the climate change story second. 

Why focus on environmental issues like this?

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Susan Cosier

Susan Cosier is former senior editor at Audubon magazine. Follow her on Twitter @susancosier.

Type: Author | From: Audubon Magazine

Comments

I am grateful to you Susan

I am grateful to you Susan for providing information that is useful and interesting. Other posts awaited best, greetings success for the admin
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Thank you for everything

Thank you for everything Susan, you must have put in a lot of effort into this and I wanted to tell you that I appreciate it!
Cheers
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Proposed policy responses to

Proposed policy responses to global warming include mitigation by emissions reduction, adaptation to its effects, and possible future geoengineering. Most countries are parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), whose ultimate objective is to prevent dangerous anthropogenic climate change. http://www.best3dprinterx.blogspot.com/

Mmmmm and now the wildlife is

Mmmmm and now the wildlife is already suffering as a result of global ice melt-particularly at the poles, where marine mammals, seabirds, and other creatures depend on food found at the ice edge. In northern Canada, reports of hunger and weight loss among polar bears have been correlated with changes in the ice cover. And in Antarctica, loss of the sea ice, together with rising air temperatures and increased precipitation, is altering the habitats as well as feeding and breeding patterns of penguins and seals.

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