What We Do
Elizabeth Rose, second year photography student, explains how a single image could motivate us to change our actions, as well as our whole outlook.
This recent photograph of a melting glacier in Norway was captured by environmentalist lecturer, Michael Nolan. It sees an obscured face ‘crying’ melted ice. This photograph depicts something different to what we normally see, and is perhaps most affecting in the reality of today - the rise of climate change and environmental guilt. Dubbed ‘Mother Nature in Tears’, it brings fourth the powerful symbology of our actions as humans, taking its final toll on the natural world. A daunting warning of our errors somehow captured both technically and figuratively in an image.
This Austfonna ice-shelf, which is shrinking by around 50 metres each year, becomes a ‘pareidolia’, an image seen through something it is not. The man in the moon, a sheep in a cloud formation, hidden messages heard through songs playing backwards. It brings a parallel meaning to the idea of a thawing glacier. Like a skull seen in a haze of smoke, this weeping face stands as a mark for its subject, a sign. Unlike the doom following the sight of a skull, this crying formation rather inflicts the notion of grief and helplessness. A ‘cry’ for change.
Photographs like this change the way we see our world, they can move us to perhaps change our perspective on something, to make us want to change our actions and feelings. This ability to actively encourage a viewer’s conscience is an important aspect in photographs. What they depict has a level of truth, or at least a truth through the lens. A painting of a melting glacier will always be different to a photograph of a melting glacier. A photograph resinates something that cannot be denied – some level of certainty. This certainty is especially prominent in images regarding the world around us. Michael Nolan says of his image ‘This is how one would imagine Mother Nature would express her sentiments about our inability to reduce global warming…"
His photograph transcends through both our rational and emotional awareness. An important consideration in photographs such as this one is how deep and long its implied concept can stay with us, if they can move beyond a sudden thought and not fade away in our minds once we look away. On one hand, it is all very well to feel empathy and remorse for something, to want to help it and change it, to feel entitled to it. However, it is another to take these feelings and turn them into action, to make them happen. This second step is most vital, and without it, such images become no more than occasional and fleeting thoughts. A photograph like this can only be a vessel to change, it needs a viewer who can take its notion of change and use its vision to move beyond the static. Only then can its power be truly realised. Will you and I be this viewer?