I am interested in forced migration, both on small and large scales, due to economic, social, political or environmental events. Whatever the scale of the event from the outside, those affected by them experience them as life changing. The power of humankind to radically change the lives of others of their kind and the rest of nature, often for the worse, is played out in these situations with the quiet men- ace of domestic upheaval. The interplay between personal experience and "the event" is something I have been exploring in my work. From the East London’s Balfron Tower, where historical tenants were forced to leave to accommodate for building refurbishment, to the democratic Christchurch earthquakes and my current project on the Horse River Fire. With this latter project, however, a greater event of potential epic displacement is brought into the frame. With this work, the question which hovers over all the images is, where will we go, as a species, when we can no longer inhabit the lands we have since our beginnings. This is the key question when we consider climate change and it is a question which ignores all boundaries, boarders and human created divisions.
The project questions humanities failure to act in response to ongoing major climatic changes. It seeks to engage with one of the most significant existential challenges we face today and contribute to the conversations to help environmental literacy and connection, around this issue.
Addressing the beliefs underlaying resistance to act provides an opportunity to open the discussion. The project is an attempt to do this, to come at the issue, obliquely, within photography and art. My aim, through fine art and documentary photography, is to render this serious potential environmental, political and even social catastrophe, in a way which is accessible, inviting and aesthetically sympathetic to the beauty of human achievement alongside the rest of nature.
While technical arguments about climate change versus climate variation rage, accelerated shifts in conditions have put 18 of the earths’ subsystems nearer to a point of collapse and no return. One of these is the boreal forest. Spanning the geopolitical zones and continental boundaries of North America, Asia and Europe, the boreal forest is the earth’s largest land biome. At 1.9 billion hectares of birch, spruce, alder, willow, poplar, oak, maple, elm and conifer it is one of our planets most vital lungs. The air you are drawing into your body now has been recycled there many times over.
In a continuation of my interest within the landscape associated with displaced communities. A fateful summer in 2016 drew my attention to the flight of a western population, who became brutally exposed to the Horse River Wildfire. Fort McMurray’s residents were evacuated with immediate notice and the event became the largest mass evacuation of people and most costly natural disaster in Canadian history. Set remotely, in an other- wise sparsely populated inhospitable region, the reasons behind the unusually dense population were revealed upon discovery that Canada is positioned as the world’s 3rd largest oil producer.
With the assistance of the Royal Photographic Societies Environmental Awareness Bursary, I travelled from the city of Edmonton, situated in Canada’s Alberta province, into the boreal forest, to the site of the 2016 Horse River wildfire. Over a period of 8 weeks I made photographic and sound works that reflected the paradox witnessed on a modern ecological frontier.
The project is a case study of the Fort McMurray area which combines psychology, geology and meteorology with allegorical storytelling. The work consists of three parts, the second of which is the installation I am pro- posing here which will consist of up to 120 photographs, 30 photograms, a dossier, human hair and ambient sound recordings. It attempts to move photography off the wall and provide viewers with a more personal and immersive experience and also more intimate points of entry into the issue of potentials in a new climate.
I have interviewed several globally recognised leaders in scientific community to build a dossier and made chance meetings in Fort McMurray. Including that of the experienced fur trapper, Jim Rogers, who cut is his beard and gave it to me in order to substantiate toxicity present in the environment of Fort McMurray.
The full project contains 160 colour photographs, 3000-word essay, journal entry, 20-page dossier, contaminated human hair samples and sound recordings.
Photographs were taken between 15 October and 15 November 2016; and between 14 and 28 February 2017.
Professor Mike Flannigan, professor of wildland fire at the University of Alberta
Lynn Johnston, forest fire research specialist, Natural Resources Canada
Selina Ozanne, research assistant
Professor Will Steffen, earth system scientist and emeritus professor at the Australian National University
Professor Jan Zalasiewicz, stratigrapher and convenor of the Working Group on the Anthropocene
The Royal Photographic Society and The Photographic Angle Environmental Awareness Bursary