Camera adventure

Vintage Adventure: Balog’s ‘Changing Nature’ Photo Exhibit

A spectacular photographic exhibition at the Vero Beach Museum of Art – Changing Nature: A New Vision – features stunningly beautiful and often alarming photographs by renowned photographer, filmmaker, scientist and author James Balog.

On display in the Holmes and Titelman Galleries until December 31, the exhibition’s four themed sections – Survivors, Transformation, Combustion and Extraction – reflect four decades of projects and include work from his book, “The Human Element: A Time Capsule from the Anthropocene.

The photographs in the Titelman Gallery, says Balog, best illustrate the Anthropocene, a geological epoch denoting human impact on geology and ecosystems.

“If you’re not familiar with the word, Anthropocene is kind of the key to the whole puzzle. The word Anthropocene wasn’t coined 40 years ago when I started looking at this collusion between humanity and nature, but the idea was there,” Balog says.

“The idea is that humanity has had such a profound impact on the rest of the natural environment, that we leave an imprint that will last indefinitely like a geological era.”

Discussions around the date of the Anthropocene marker vary widely, from the beginning of agriculture 10,000 years ago, to the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s, nuclear testing in the 1940s, and even the age of plastics, from the 1960s.

“My favorite field is agriculture because it has had such a profound impact on reshaping the surface of the earth. The Industrial Revolution reshaped the air supply; that’s when the big air shift started,” Balog explains.

Referencing ‘Keystone Power Plant and Farm’ taken in Shelocta, Pennsylvania in 2017, he says, “Of all the images on this show, this captures the Anthropocene best, as it is a coal-fired power station and it’s agriculture. The landscape and the air which overhangs it are completely modified. In my office, they call it my Norman Rockwell.

Though charming as an American work of art, the confluence of quiet farmland and a classic red barn set next to smokestacks spewing fossil pollution is shocking.

Balog went to great lengths, as with his other works, to capture the remarkable “Thin Atmosphere Seen from Balloon Camera at 70,000 feet over Denver, Colorado” taken in October 2017.

“Astronauts see the atmosphere like this all the time, but I wanted to have a personal experience that would show me how thin the atmosphere was.”

Balog attached cameras to a weather balloon which rose to some 99,000 feet (commercial flights are around 36,000 feet). The camera continually moved away until the balloon exploded and it “dropped like a stone” until the parachutes opened at around 40,000.

The largest number of photographs line the walls of the Holmes Gallery; greeted at the entrance by “Giant Sequoia, Stagg”, taken in 2001 at Camp Nelson, California. It is part of the museum’s permanent collection, purchased with funds from Balog’s deceased parents, James and Alvina Balog.

At 28 feet in diameter at its base and some 270 feet tall, ‘Stagg’ is the fifth tallest tree in the world. To shoot it in its entirety, they set up a complicated rope-snapping schedule which Balog scaled and, suspended in the space between the photographed tree and the one opposite, took 451 shots as it went. as it descends. The little speck of red in the photos is tree rigger Billy Ellyson.

“These tree portraits were a continuation of the thinking that was in the Endangered Wildlife series. I wanted to celebrate the tallest and oldest individuals of various tree species in the United States,” says Balog, who photographed six years of trees that have so far survived deforestation.

For the Fire series, Balog studied in a Montana Forest Service research lab until a wildfire burned 6,000 acres less than half a mile from his home in the foothills of the Rockies. He then trained as a wildland firefighter and chased wildfires for four years.

The show’s largest fire piece, “Controlled Burn #6”, was taken in the Northwest Territories of Canada, the rest in the United States.

The Endangered Wildlife series juxtaposes endangered, threatened and vulnerable animals in unexpected poses outside of their natural habitat like “Mandrill, 1989”. There, against a white background, a mandrill faces the camera seated casually on a stool, one leg bent at the knee and the other dangling.

“I had a math teacher who sat like that,” Balog laughs. “We try to create these barriers and this philosophy in our brains that separate us from nature, but for me, when you see a chimpanzee standing in a very precarious, fragile and humane way, you see a lot of humanity. “

This close relationship is accentuated in a series that pairs nude models, ages 5 to 85, with chimpanzees, our closest genetic relative.

The most emblematic is “The old man and the monkey”. Posed back to back and not looking much different, the photo personifies this chromosomal connection with the animal kingdom.

A Techno Sapiens series accentuates humans’ connection to technology, as in “Covid-19 ICU Nurse,” as she faces the camera resolutely in full protective gear; and “Kenny’s Arm, NovaCare-Sabolich Prosthetic & Research Center,” showcasing the intricate details of a young man’s transparent prosthesis.

“So this is just a taste of trying to deal with the transformation of homosapiens into a new creature. Altering the world isn’t just unique to what we impose on animals. We’re altering the terms of our biological lives through the infusion of technology and technological behaviors into our world.

And then there are the striking photographs of his Extreme Ice Survey, which clearly and dramatically illustrate the very real alterations of the earth caused by climate change and how rapidly global warming is altering glaciers.

“When you melt glaciers, oceans rise. It’s very simple. The tragedy of the world is that children are going to live with it in the future,” Balog said. of photographic exploration of the retreat of glaciers.”

Wanting to photographically explore the retreat of the world’s glaciers, Balog and his team risked their lives and limbs to install time-lapse cameras in the bedrock of glaciers in Alaska, northern Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Nepal and Antarctica. The cameras clicked for many years, amassing an astounding archive of 1.72 million images destined for the Library of Congress and the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Some of these jaw-dropping photos were included in his award-winning documentary “Chasing Ice”, which clearly illustrates the dwindling fate of glaciers. Some that have been photographed recede but still exist; others are gone forever.

Referencing a collection of ‘Ice Diamond’ photographs, he says: “As glaciers break into smaller and smaller pieces, each of these pieces is part of global sea level rise. These aren’t abstractions, these things are all connected. As the big chunks of ice get smaller, they turn into what I called ice diamonds. I did a whole bunch of studies on these magnificent last fragments of glaciers before they melt.

Several sequential pairs of photographs taken in Iceland show the drastic alteration of the landscape over short periods of time.

“I originally shot this and thought wow, this is a massive, cool block of ice; it’s like an alligator. And then I went back, and it was all gone,” Balog said, referring to “Tahumming Glacier, British Columbia, Canada,” shot in September 2008 and August 2017. “It was a huge shock to find out how fast the ice was changing.

Balog plans to team up with other geologists for Extreme Ice Survey Iceland, so additional cameras can document future glacial changes.

“Most of the ice will be gone in 100 years and the rest in 200. Even Iceland’s tallest ice cap, which reaches nearly 6,000 feet, is thinning by about a meter of thinning per year. It has warmed tremendously over the past few decades, as we know,” Balog says.

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Pictures of Joshua Kodis