A research project proposal.
This project is about Climate Change, currently recognized as the single greatest global threat to human beings and their way of life.
The project seeks to deliver a collection of images which express the apprehension born of knowing that rapid and damaging change is imminent.
Since the beginning of the modern period, human beings have burned increasing amounts of fossil fuels to provide energy. Fossil fuels release carbon dioxide (CO2) as a product of combustion.
Excess CO2 in the atmosphere creates a greater insulation effect which causes the Earth to be warmer. This leads to higher sea levels, which threatens human life by potentially flooding coastal towns and cities, making it impossible to grow food in some areas, disrupting access to fresh water and creating millions of climate refugees.
This new world of rapid and destructive change is already being referred to as the Anthropocene Era, the era that humans created. The threats are global and I have set out to make a series of pictures that address the effects of Climate Change in my local area.
My project aims to capture the worries about this accidental new era, the dark clouds on the horizon, the calm before the storm, the whispers that something bad is going to happen.
This is a research project. My intention is to identify likely effects of Climate Change in my local area, then sites that may be affected. Having identified a likely effect and a location, I can then engage in a creative process of deciding on my subject matter and how I will picture this. So the creative work will be knowledge led, addressing the visceral reaction to distressing change.
I intend to create a collection of pictures that speaks of an imminent crisis. The pictures will aim to not only be a warning, but also an expression of the foreboding. They will draw on the notion of the sublime to exert an emotional impact.
My aim is to create a photographic project which delivers a set of pictures suitable for display in a gallery space or collected into a book. My nearest city is Brighton which has an annual arts festival which may provide an opening for an exhibition. However, I have not yet explored that possibility. If an organization engaged in raising awareness of the effects of Climate Change, wished to use this work in any way as part of their mission, I would be happy to make my work available to them.
Context and critical background
Climate Change is a very high profile issue at the time of writing. Consequently, it extends across a number of conceptual spaces.
Climate change is an unexpected and, for two hundred years, an unrecognised product of industrial capitalism. It is a product as much as electricity, air transportation, asbestosis, mass obesity, smartphones and penicillin. Some of these products, like smartphones and penicillin, have transformed our lives for the good. Others, like Climate Change and asbestosis, have been ignored as long as possible.
Climate Change tends to be treated as a matter of science which is not unreasonable as all understanding of climate change derives from climate science. But Climate Change is an existential crisis for humanity. Lives will be lost, investments will collapse, and fellow human beings will become refugees. Scientists can tell us what is likely to happen, but it is for artists and communicators to deliver an emotive message that will convince their audiences of the need for action.
I am a member of the Green Party and have campaigned on issues of environmental justice. For me, Climate Change is a reality. But this view is not universally shared and there are many on the political right and aligned with industry lobbying groups, who seek to dismiss the threat of Climate Change. My work is based on an acceptance of the warnings of climate science. I intend that my work would support efforts to combat the causes and effects of Climate Change.
My project will be largely based in the landscape genre and conservation photography sub-genre. I will seek to create pictures of places which are particularly at risk from Climate Change. I hope that the pictures will speak on behalf of the places they depict.
Other practitioners have also addressed this subject. Most notable (in my view) is Carl de Keyser in his Moments before the Flood project.
De Keyser and I clearly share a love of the coast and work in a similar style. I had not encountered his work before being introduced to it by a fellow student. Whilst I have restricted my project to the South East of England and his ranges all over Europe, our projects have obvious common ground.
In terms of objectives, I also share a space with Virginia Hanusik and her A New Narrative for Landscape Photography in the Anthropocene project
She states that “Art provides endless opportunities to bridge that gap by engaging people and catalyzing collective action to create strong communities”. That is a very similar point of view to my own statement above under the “Cultural” sub-heading.
Central and local governments, academic bodies, scientific and campaigning bodies have all produced data, studies and tools that predict Climate Change effects in great detail. Interactive maps are available which show precisely which areas will be flooded under certain sea level rise scenarios.
My research will help me identify places, structures, homes, people and activities which are under threat. For example, my portfolio includes pictures taken a Kingsdown in Kent. Much of the village is built on the shingle beach. It is particularly vulnerable to the sort of storms which are predicted to be more intense and more frequent in the future. Other pictures are taken on Pett Level in East Sussex, which is low lying and would be flooded without constant flood defence maintenance.
The coastline in the south-east has varied considerably over the last few thousand years. Climate Change is likely to make the rate of change more rapid, so I am focusing on this threat in my work.
Creative and Ethical Constraints
Climate Change is a global issue that affects us all, so I do not need to travel far to find subject matter. A classic slogan from the early days of the environmental movement was “think global, act local” and I choose to employ this logic to focus on my local area.
Much of the popular material about Climate Change tends to emphasise the exotic. The threat to Polar Bears and low-lying Pacific island atolls. These threats are real but can easy be interpreted by an audience as distant and irrelevant. I live in the South East of England and my project will address the likely effects of Climate Change on my local environment. I am deliberately looking for the predicted effects of climate change in my own area to make clear that impacts are likely to be everywhere.
Addressing my local environment also removes a consistent double standard that regularly appears in documentary work on Climate Change. Reporters and camera crews are flown around the world to produce a documentary on the effects of Climate Change. Flying people around the world is a key contributor to the CO2 emissions associated with current lifestyles. I do not want this double standard detracting from the message of my project.
Progress to date
The project has focused on the effects of sea level rise and flooding. I have researched which parts of the South East are most at risk from the effects of Climate Change. Then I have sought to understand the mechanics of those threats. For example, Pett Level is doubly at risk. Longshore drift is constantly stripping shingle from the beach and moving it eastward. Natural risk. The area is also vulnerable to the withdrawal of government funding to maintain the sea defences. Political risk.
I have made a number of field trips to the sites mentioned and created a portfolio of work.
Whilst photography at the coast has long been an important part of my practice, I am now aware of approaching a favourite subject with a new appreciation of the processes in play in this environment. For example, previously I have tended to dwell on the fluid, uncertain nature of the coastline. In this project, I am regarding the sea as much more malign and destructive force, constantly gnawing away at the coast. The irony that it is human activity which is amplifying this threat is all too apparent.
The main expenditure will be on travel to locations. This will mostly be undertaken by car and will hence mainly be the cost of petrol. Anywhere in the South East is accessible on one tank of fuel, cost around £60. Should a longer journey be required, I would expect to stay overnight at my destination. B & B costs are typically £50 per night. I will meet these costs from my salary.
I have imposed the constraint that all the locations in my project will be in the South East of England. This is mainly for ethical reasons (see Creative and Ethical Constraints) and will also have the effect of limiting costs.
As I already own a full-frame DSLR camera, lenses and tripod, I do not anticipate the need for additional equipment to undertake this project.
Resources and skills
The project is based on understanding the current and projected effects of Climate Change in my local area, then interpreting these effects with pictures. Hence research skills will be required to identify relevant and credible sources to inform the locations. I am not a Geographer but do consider myself well informed on Climate Change and the underlying science.
My project will involve visiting locations and making creative decisions about how to depict the chosen subjects. Although I already possess a good base of landscape photography skills, I will look for ways in which I can improve my skills as I progress this project. During the collaborative peer review process, I have already been challenged to improve my post-production skills to ensure my pictures present as well as possible.
The initial timescale for this project is to create a portfolio featuring pictures related to sea level rise and flooding. This will meet the assignment date of 29th April 2019 and will be accompanied by a proposal.
Thereafter, I would like to reconsider the orientation of the project and consider different aspects of Climate Change. I would like the freedom to be influenced by the next module of the course in how I will approach new work.
In my Creative Restraints, I have elected to work in my local area. This avoids the likely charge that engaging in long-distance travel directly contributes to the environmental damage I am addressing.
The current portfolio does not include any pictures of identifiable people. Hence, there is no need for permissions or model release forms.
I will be driving to my shooting locations so will experience the normal risks of road travel. Shooting will take place in a variety of locations. The coast presents the most significant set of risks: falling from wet rocks, rockfalls or being trapped by rising tides. Precautionary measures such as being aware of high and low tide times, wearing appropriate clothing and footwear and maintaining vigilance will all contribute to my safety.
A Risk Assessment form relating to my shoot on 23rd March 2019 can be viewed here.
Research Sources & Bibliography
Michel Foucault, The Order of Things, Chapter 10 – The Human Sciences
Liz Wells, On And Beyond The White Walls: Photography As Art, from Photography: A Critical Introduction, 2015
Harold Davis, Creative Landscapes, 2011
J.A.P. Alexander, Perspectives On Place, 2015
Gaia Vince, Adventures in the Anthropocene: A Journey To The Heart of the Planet We Made, 2016
The Royal Society – The Basics of Climate Change
A Summary of Climate Risks for South East England https://www.arun.gov.uk/download.cfm?doc=docm93jijm4n1708.pdf&ver=1350
UK sites at risk from flooding