EARTH’S WIT­NESS

New Zealand D-Photo - - ASSIGNMENT | MICHAEL HALL - WORDS| ADRIAN HAT WELL

Whether we stand on the verge of eco­log­i­cal col­lapse or a bright new age of sus­tain­abil­ity, pho­tog­ra­pher Michael Hall has pledged to be on the front­line doc­u­ment­ing the fate of our planet. The pho­tog­ra­pher makes a quick stop on our shores be­fore con­tin­u­ing his global cat­a­logue of cli­mate-change causes and im­pacts

The scope and mag­ni­tude of global is­sues are such that they can be dif­fi­cult for an in­di­vid­ual to prop­erly com­pre­hend. For so­ci­ety to en­gage mean­ing­fully with the forces af­fect­ing the world, good com­mu­ni­ca­tion is vi­tal; not just for sci­en­tists, politi­cians, and re­porters, but for artists as well. To that end, pho­tog­ra­pher Michael Hall has made it his mis­sion to roam the globe doc­u­ment­ing the causes and ef­fects of the most press­ing is­sue of our time — cli­mate change. This quest has taken the New Zealand– born Aus­tralia-based pho­tog­ra­pher to all cor­ners of the world, mak­ing records of land clear­ing in In­done­sia, glacial ice melt in the Arctic, flood­ing in Bangladesh, and in­ten­sive farm­ing in the US. His images cap­ture the dam­age be­ing done to the planet through hu­man ac­tion with vivid clar­ity and haunt­ing beauty. Michael sees it as his duty as a trained vis­ual com­mu­ni­ca­tor to raise aware­ness of these global in­jus­tices. “In the right hands, the cam­era is a pow­er­ful tool,” he says. “Our world would be a poorer place in­deed if we didn’t have our rich and long-reach­ing his­tory of con­cerned pho­tog­ra­phy.” Con­cerned pho­tog­ra­phy wasn’t al­ways the pho­tog­ra­pher’s path. When he first started trav­el­ling at the age of 19, he worked in brief, unin­spir­ing jobs to get just enough cash for a ticket to his next des­ti­na­tion. When he re­al­ized that he was blow­ing half his travel bud­get on film and pro­cess­ing, the am­a­teur pho­tog­ra­pher started to sub­mit images to travel mag­a­zines and photo li­braries to bal­ance the books. His pas­sion for the art soon be­came ap­par­ent, but he was aware that he would need to up­skill to fully re­al­ize it. So travel was put on hold while he re­turned home for a two-year pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­phy course at what was then the Welling­ton Polytech­nic. This led to two decades of in­dus­trial, cor­po­rate, and com­mer­cial con­tracts lo­cally; in Eng­land briefly; and, even­tu­ally, in Syd­ney. “As the con­tracts be­came big­ger and took me fur­ther afield, a lot of the cre­ativ­ity and fun left the job, and an un­der­ly­ing frus­tra­tion set in,” Michael re­calls. “Through much of my work­ing ca­reer, there was a nig­gling aware­ness [that] I needed to turn my cam­era’s lens on some­thing more mean­ing­ful.” And that some­thing be­come noth­ing less than the fate of the planet. Hav­ing pre­vi­ously thought of en­vi­ron­men­tal

“In the right hands, the cam­era is a pow­er­ful tool. Our world would be a poorer place in­deed if we didn’ t have our rich and long-reach­ing his­tory of con­cerned pho­tog­ra­phy.”

is­sues solely in lo­cal terms, the pho­tog­ra­pher had his world­view ex­panded when he read TheWeather

Mak­ers, by Aus­tralian sci­en­tist Tim Flannery, on the his­tory and fu­ture of cli­mate change. That book opened the flood­gates to the pho­tog­ra­pher’s end­less re­search of such au­thors as Naomi Klein, David Suzuki, Al Gore, Bill McKibben, Clive Hamil­ton, and Rachel Car­son. As well as il­lu­mi­nat­ing the im­pact hu­man ac­tiv­ity was hav­ing on the cli­mate, these stud­ies also re­vealed the ex­tent to which the cli­mate-change-de­nial mes­sage was be­ing foisted on the me­dia, which made the pho­tog­ra­pher an­gry. “A per­va­sive dose of ig­no­rance, ar­ro­gance, and vested in­ter­est was per­me­at­ing through the gen­eral lex­i­con,” he says. “I came to view these in­di­vid­u­als, high func­tion­ing in some re­spects but pro­foundly dis­con­nected, as rob­bing us and fu­ture gen­er­a­tions of any sem­blance of a fu­ture worth liv­ing in.” Just as Michael was get­ting ready to turn his new aware­ness into ac­tion, fate dealt him a grave hand; while out cy­cling, he was run over by a truck and al­most killed. He was hos­pi­tal­ized with many se­ri­ous in­juries, from which he would even­tu­ally re­cover, but the long con­va­les­cence gave him time to plan his next en­deav­our — cat­a­logu­ing the ef­fects of cli­mate change in their many forms across the globe: “This

gi­ant truck which very nearly took my life came to be the cat­a­lyst, an ex­is­ten­tial rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the in­jus­tice and enor­mity of the global mech­a­nism which is slowly killing our planet. I fig­ured, if I could sur­vive a shred­ding be­neath a fully-laden semi-trailer, the rest was go­ing to come rel­a­tively eas­ily.” Michael’s first as­sign­ment, once back on his feet, was to ex­am­ine his own back­yard. La­trobe Val­ley, east of Mel­bourne, is home to some of the coun­try’s big­gest and dirt­i­est coal-fired power sta­tions, and, with a few jumped fences and dodged se­cu­rity guards, the pho­tog­ra­pher made them the first sub­jects of his project. Soon af­ter, he shot a car­rier ship haul­ing 58,000 tonnes of coal beached in New­cas­tle dur­ing a se­vere storm and doc­u­mented the ex­ten­sive de­for­esta­tion tak­ing place in Tas­ma­nia. In short or­der, he was trav­el­ling in­ter­na­tion­ally for the project: de­for­esta­tion and coal min­ing in Kal­i­man­tan; the en­dan­gered cloud forests of Cen­tral Amer­ica; flood and food se­cu­rity in Bangladesh; coal, oil, in­fra­struc­ture, and in­ten­sive live­stock farm­ing in the US, China, Poland, Ro­ma­nia, and Bul­garia. The work has of­ten taken him to the af­ter­math of some of the most se­ri­ous dis­as­ters of our times, in­clud­ing Vic­to­ria’s Black Satur­day bushfires and the record-set­ting Typhoon Haiyan in the Philip­pines. “Over one mil­lion homes were de­stroyed; an es­ti­mated 8500 lives were lost,” he says of the typhoon. “A coastal com­mu­nity in Tacloban har­bour was laid waste when a se­ries of 7m storm surges struck, and eight large ships broke from their moor­ings, push­ing them ashore, dev­as­tat­ing all in their wake.” The global scale of this is­sue is in­tim­i­dat­ing, and you would think that be­ing at ground zero for some of these cat­a­strophic events would carry that feel­ing to full-blown pes­simism. But, in doc­u­ment­ing the worst, Michael has also wit­nessed the very best in peo­ple. “It’s seems coun­ter­in­tu­itive, I know, but if you want to see op­ti­mism at play, visit Dhaka af­ter a flood or Tacloban af­ter a dev­as­tat­ing storm surge,” he says.

“Bro­ken, im­pov­er­ished com­mu­ni­ties come to­gether. Peo­ple who have lost so much con­nect on a pro­found level; they are there for one another. From this con­nec­tion comes a state of grace and ac­cep­tance for what is, and what there is still left which is good. “I’ve be­come a hap­pier, more con­tented per­son as a re­sult of be­ing ex­posed to this.” He is also heart­ened by the in­creased aware­ness he sees in com­mu­ni­ties round the world: peo­ple giv­ing up cars for public trans­port and bi­cy­cles, shar­ing economies be­ing de­vel­oped in lieu of own­er­ship, peo­ple switch­ing to plant-based di­ets, al­ter­na­tive power re­sources be­ing heav­ily in­vested in. “I feel a shift start­ing to hap­pen. Peo­ple are be­com­ing more con­scious and more mind­ful and are start­ing to rec­og­nize [that] there is a path to a cleaner, brighter fu­ture.” The artist’s grow­ing body of work from around the world not only cap­tures ev­i­dence of the dam­age done to our planet but also the new shoots of hope that are grow­ing in ev­ery part of the planet. He wants his im­agery to spread aware­ness and mo­ti­vate ac­tion, as he re­cently ex­plained to a crowd of lo­cal cre­atives at Welling­ton’s Pho­ti­val event. “We must start ask­ing our­selves what sort of fu­ture we are leav­ing to our grand­chil­dren, and we sim­ply must do what we can to make that fu­ture more ten­able for them,” he said. “It seems to me the height of self­ish­ness not to do so. I hope to be an en­abler in this re­gard.”

ALDEYJARFOSS, ICE­LAND, ARCH SWISS MISURA, 90MM, F/22, 6M

MCKITTRICK OIL FIELD IN KERN C OUNTY, CAL­I­FOR­NIA, ARCA SWISS MISURA, 150MM (X5), F/22, 1/8S

BELCHATOW COAL FIRED P OWER STA­TION, ARCA SWISS MISURA, 210MM, F/22, 60S

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