Most of us are so busy doing whatever it is we are doing that we have lost the ability to see and appreciate that which is around us. With our faces constantly in our cell phones or staring at computer screens or reading the paper, we have lost the art of just looking and seeing. Not so Korean photographer Ahae. Over the course of four years, Ahae has taken more than 2.6 million photographs of nature – with one important twist. All the photographs were taken from the same window in his house.
Strongly interested and fascinated by nature, Ahae lives in Korea where he manages organic farms and lives among nature. But, unlike most of us, he has not lost the art of seeing. He shows us just how much ‘hidden’ beauty and ‘hidden’ nature can lie outside one single window – if only we stopped to look and to see.
Some of the images that Ahae creates are normally invisible to us. The beautiful pattern created by the flying bird below would not be visible to the naked eye – it would disappear too quickly. But Ahae’s combination of observation and photographic capture has created a set of images so varied and so extensive that it is almost impossible to believe that everything was seen out of a single window.
Ahae’s incredible project may serve to remind us of many things. First, the beauty of nature is everywhere for us to see – even out of a single window. Second, that we have much to enjoy by regaining our ability to see – patiently to observe and to spend time appreciating what is around us. Finally, we don’t necessarily need to go to extraordinary places to seek experiences. There may be very many of them just in our own back yard.
Ahae has his own way of seeing, capturing and representing the nature that he observes. Each of us would see it and capture it differently – make different meanings of it. But it is there for us to see if only we can find the time to look.
It’s impossible to look at these dogs and not smile.
They are one of a number of public sculptures by artist David Kemp. Kemp makes sculptures out of found or discarded objects. He describes his work rather charmingly as follows: “I make things out of things, big things, little things, old things and new things. I like to recycle things, and find new uses for things that have been thrown away. Some things say something about their surroundings, and other things become something else.”
The dogs above are made out of old Wellington boots. The sparkling water plants below are made out of discarded water bottles.
Art using re-cycled materials or found objects is becoming much more common. We have previously covered in this blog jewelry made from recycled materials by Tonya O’Hara and Jeremy Mays. As more of these objects appear, they continue to reinforce in our collective minds that, in Kemp’s words, things can become other things. Kemp’s work in particular also emphasizes that objects don’t have to come out of a factory spanking new made out of fresh material to be beautiful, engaging and charming.
It’s a long haul to move our cultures back to a culture of re-use from the present culture of single-use disposability. But moving in that direction may eventually lead us to what some have called the circle economy.
Below a sculpture made out of obsolete industrial machinery.
The figures in the image above are said to have symbolized fertility. They are part of an ancient ritual in Bulgaria which continues to this day.
Over the ages, we have changed our relationship to nature and the meaning that we give to animals and other non-human parts of the world. Myths and legends have been largely destroyed to be replaced by ‘truth’ as told to us by modern science. While this has led to different understandings of the world, it has also destroyed the charm, imagination, whimsy and even fear that was associated with myths and legend. We have lost something of our soul. We have largely destroyed the fascination of the unknown.
With this change came, I suggest, our ever decreasing respect for nature. Science has been our primary tool to “understand,” deconstruct and domesticate nature turning it into a mere resource for either study or economic gain. From this followed our ever increasing destruction of the natural environment.
The images here come from Wilder Mann – a series by French photographer Charles Fréger. Fréger traveled across Europe making images of ancient rituals that persist to this day. It is interesting how many of these images consist of humans trying, in some way or other, to become animal.
While these rituals persist, their meaning has all but disappeared. Today they do not contain the richness of meaning that myths and legends used to give these rituals. Rather they persist because of tradition; more as carnival, social gathering and celebration of heritage than as something deeply embedded in society. This reflects the changing relationship we have with nature and animals. Now we purport to “know” that these rituals have little meaning. We have lost our respect, awe and fear of the animal or the human made animal. All is domesticated, controlled and utilitarian – as are these rituals – in many places now more of a tourist attraction than something deep, spiritual and meaningful.
Its hard to get many people really to care about trees. Especially if you’re a small organization, the trees you are talking about are somewhere in a rainforest and the people you are talking to are urban people who have very little concept of what a rainforest might be.
But it’s much easier to get people to care about ‘families’.
The brilliance of the advertizing campaign designed by Sergej Chursyn (Ogilvy and Mather, Frankfurt) is that it brings the concept of ‘family’ to a rainforest full of trees.
Designed for a small charity – Oro Verde – and intended as a fundraising campaign, the simple slogan was mounted on 600+ trees which were also fitted with small donation boxes. How the campaign was envisaged and its success are described in the video below.
The brilliance of the campaign lies not only in its recruitment of 600 trees as fundraisers but in its use of the concept of ‘family’. This brings a strong emotional element to the campaign that would be impossible to achieve if the focus were solely on the trees or if the campaign were one of the usual attempts to drown people in scientific fact or in the gloom and doom narrative of how our rainforests are being destroyed. “I’m raising money for my family” touches deep-seated emotional responses that are reflexive and almost irresistible. It also somehow brings the appeal close to home as opposed to out there, far away in the rainforest.
The fact that it’s the tree talking adds an element of wit and humor that only serves to enhance people’s ability to identify with the campaign. People donate with a smile rather than being put off by the usual guilt based narrative of “the trees are being destroyed and it’s your fault because you’re a wealthy, Western consumer.”
At least that is Max Mulhern’s contention and his inspiration behind Aquadice. Combining his artistic interests with his love of open water, Max Mulhern constructed two huge, floating dice and cast them out to sea. The idea is that they will drift unpredictably wherever chance takes them. On board GPS systems allow the dice to be tracked.
I was intrigued by this artwork from an environmental perspective for many reasons.
My first thought was whether this work could be a good metaphor for the question: “Are we taking a huge gamble with our environment?” Rolling the dice in open water and seeing what happens seems to me to have similarities with how our modern lifestyles deal with the environment in which we live and on which we depend.
Conversely, what can we do that’s different? Although our fetish for planning seems endless, our ability to plan is poor. Mulhern is right when he says that a lot of what happens owes much to chance or to unintended consequences of our actions. I am sure nobody “planned” to do quite so much damage to our environment so as to threaten our very livelihoods. It was just the unintended consequence of “progress” and of our modern way of life. Is the answer more planning – just of a different sort? In a recent editorial, highly respected environmentalist Satish Kumar put it this way “we need to think of an economic system that is durable and sustainable. We need a system that will provide livelihood and wellbeing for all people, not just for the next five years, 56 years or even 500 years, but for the next five million years. In other words, for ever.” Great sentiments but are we really up to thinking up something like that, planning it and executing it? Or is this simply the same type of hubristic faith in the ability of the human to think everything through that landed us where we are today. Maybe the best we can do is come up with ideas that seem reasonable and, Like Max Mulhern, launch them into the world and see what happens. In all likelihood what will happen will never quite be what we thought might happen.
This wonderful image is from Brazilian advertising agency Segmento. It illustrates their campaign titled “Humanity and Nature Are One.”
To me this highly creative image illustrates two things. The first is the power of digital imagery. It is difficult to imagine that a similar image could have been as powerful as this using any other medium but digital manipulation of photographic images. Such digital imagery combines the ‘real’ of photographic images with the unreal composition that captures our attention and unleashes our imagination. The combination yields strong visual impact.
The second is the concept behind this image. Rather than the usual – and largely ineffective – environmental narrative of “Human vs Nature,” this campaign focuses on our inseparable inter-relatedness and inter-dependence. It tries to bring us closer to nature rather than to create artificial separation.
Whale sharks are the largest species of fish and are threatened (though not currently endangered) by over-fishing for shark fins. Late last year, photographers Shawn Heinrichs and Kristian Schmidt combined their expertise in fashion and marine photography to create an unusual fashion shoot – fashion models swimming with whale sharks.
The aim of the shoot is to raise awareness about these magnificent animals and the damage being done by overfishing. Fortunately, things are already improving significantly. As Heinrichs says in a blog describing the project, “Just a two years ago in these very waters, divers discovered a live juvenile whale shark that had all its fins cut off . Though legally protected in the Philippines, poaching of whale sharks had continued because the shark fin traders enticed poor local fishermen to earn money from exploiting these vulnerable animals. Less than a decade prior, the local populations of whale sharks had been all but wiped out to satisfy demand for shark fins in China. Now finally, local communities have found a way to earn a living from whale shark tourism, and rather than targeting and killing them, they now are passionate about protecting them.”
Some scientists are still uneasy about whale shark tourism but, as Heinrichs says in a recent article in WIRED, “it’s not a perfect world and tourism is one of the greatest drivers for species preservation today.”
I thought is would be appropriate to end the year and see in the New Year with some images that are uplifting and thought-provoking. I am putting up this intriguing imagery by Igor Zenin without commentary but in the hope that it will help us start the New Year with a bit of reflection on our human relationship with the non-human world around us – what is that relationship like and what would we like it to become going forward?
Language is one of our greatest art forms. Language is not only a tool of communication and persuasion but it is also a cognitive tool – saying things or writing about them helps us understand.
This collection of essays uses language to its full force to examine issues related to our environment. Many of the essays are literary in style; others more logical.
From the Preface: Environmentalism Refreshed
We need new ways of thinking about issues that affect how we interact with our environment. The authors whose work is collected here make some powerful calls for change. Some make them emotionally and metaphorically; others make them rationally and logically; but all make them passionately.
Comments about the book
“These essays are fresh, unconstrained and thought-provoking. They bring new, sometimes quirky perspectives to the environmental debate.” David Pilling. Asia Editor, Financial Times
“There’s no single “right” answer to the challenges that we face in the world today. The assembly of citizens gathered in this volume takes strength from its dynamic polyvocality: its attention to more perspectives – and therefore, its access to more possible approaches – than any conventional environmental text could offer.” Randy Malamud, Professor and Chair of English, Georgia State University
Download a free eBook in pdf format here Kindle Edition can be accessed here
Her digital images made from combinations of hundreds of photographs create a globe on which are superimposed constructed images of local landscapes and habitats.
The statement “Think Global. Act Local” has become such a cliché that it has lost all meaning. Yet Nelson’s images bring it back to life. She describes her work as “a contemporary pictorial mythology that subtly reminds the viewer of a profound truth: that it is in the flourishing variety of the local that the fate of the world resides.”
We hear so much environmental rhetoric that is focused on ‘changing the world’ or ‘saving the planet’. It all sounds grand but ends up being little more than hot air. Constructive action depends much more on the success of local initiatives than it does on endless global conferences where little agreement about anything can be achieved – and when agreed, little is implemented.
Nelson’s work reminds us that the globe is made up of gardens, parks, forests, wilderness areas, rivers and mountains that are all local to some community. It is in all our local areas that the miracles of nature on which we all depend are happening. We can all contribute by making our local area – even our back garden – better without waiting for someone else to set up that next large protected area or nature reserve somewhere else.
Nelson’s work reminds us that it is the local that, brick by brick, builds the world we live in and we should create our local environment in the image of the type of world we’d like to live in.