Chasing Ice: The Memory of Landscape
Posted on November 19th, 2012
Until Hurricane Sandy came through New York, I always thought about climate change in a disassociated kind of way. It is obvious to me that it is a serious problem with catastrophic effects, but I don’t think I really grasped the full extent of what is happening to the planet until I saw “Chasing Ice,” Jeff Orlowski’s film about James Balog’s project recording the disappearing glaciers.
I first came to photographer James Balog’s work when I saw his book, “Anima,” a look at the physical similarity between humans and chimpanzees. And when I heard him speak at this past PhotoPlus Expo, I was astounded by his dedication to the issue of climate change, and the work he has been doing for the past five years.
In 2007 Balog founded the Extreme Ice Survey (EIS) to study glaciers. From Alaska to Greenland to Iceland to Canada to Bolivia and even Montana, Balog and his small team installed two dozen time-lapse cameras in an attempt to bear witness to what is disappearing.
As Balog says, it is “the memory of the landscape” they are documenting. “That landscape is gone. It may never be seen again in the history of civilization.”
Glaciers are melting, and this is the only way to show they even existed.
There is such beyond words beauty in the giant gems of ice Balog photographs. And when he shows the way light plays off the ice at night, it is as if I am looking at something so much greater than the existence of humans. But it is not simply the beauty that will be missed; it is what has started to happen to our planet that we will not be able to control.
For Balog this is a mission beyond health, as several knee surgeries attest. He has incontrovertible proof that there is massive change afoot. Now.
I must admit that even while I was entranced by the beauty and moved by the amazing effort being taken to document this change, I was actually terrified. We’ve seen what large, unique hurricanes; tornados, wildfires and droughts have brought to the U.S. already. Add to that what is happening around the world and tell me if you are ready to live in a world of diminished resources and extreme conditions. I’m not.
As those of us in New York and New Jersey have so recently learned, we’re basically on our own when these things happen. And if we do nothing, if we do not demand action, I fear the worst is yet to come.
You must see this film and you must raise your voice. This is not just an unparalleled body of work; it is a public service for the entire world. But unless we take action, it will become a time capsule to show what we could have done if we had only stood up.
All photos courtesy of Extreme Ice Survey and James Balog.