Can photography help us understand the climate crisis?

Can photography help us understand the climate crisis?
Intersectional Geographies — A new exhibition brings together a diverse selection of photographers whose works address unsustainable industries and their impact on the climate.

We have reached a reckoning as the planet is no longer able to sustain the impact of unchecked industrialisation and oppressive labor practices on the environment. As we confront the challenges of the climate crisis, a new exhibition titled Intersectional Geographies from curator and photographer Jacqueline Ennis-Cole brings together a group of 12 artists working around the globe advocating for a deeper understanding of the issues we face. 

Ennis-Cole draws inspiration from Kimberlé Crenshaw, who coined the term “intersectionality” in 1989 to locate the way systems of power overlap and create distinct experiences for people with multiple identities. For the exhibition, Ennis-Cole brings together diverse geographies where issues of climate change take root to consider the complex interrelationship of exploitation, human rights, and social justice.

From ‘Beneath Us’ (2019-2021), © Jacqueline Ennis-Cole

From Janine Wiedel’s 1977 photography series Coal Mining in the West Midlands to Judy Rabinowitz Price’s film Quarries of Wandering Stone: White Oil made in Occupied Palestinian, Intersectional Geographies offers a multifaceted look at the relationships between protecting and sustaining our planet’s ecosystems and the people living and working in these communities. 

Ennis-Cole recognises that change will require a paradigm shift that includes receptivity to indigenous perspectives and cosmologies as well as climate justice for vulnerable communities like those living in Flint, Michigan. Indeed, we cannot simply “green wash” the damage that industry has wrought.

Oswald Ozzie Roberts from ‘The Pits of Nations: Black British Coal Miners’ © David Severn

In addition to examining fracking, fossil fuels, coal, gold and copper mining in the exhibition, Ennis-Cole speaks about the environmental impact of photography itself. “Photography as an industry is implicated in unsustainable practice,” she says, noting the use of chemicals, waste and silver in analogue processes. “We have a lot of work to do within our own industry and would be hypocritical of us to critique industry without attending to our own domestic situation.” 

Ennis-Cole wants Intersectional Geographies to ask questions and open dialogue that will foster knowledge and understanding of the broader impact of the issues at play. “What good is photography if not to help ‘us’ collectively push back?” she says.

It’s about adopting a collectivist approach to uplift the power of communities to actualise change. “Perhaps one productive way forward is for all of us as citizens to acknowledge our personal power within including our creativity and appreciate and value the power of the collective, the power of communities,” Ennis-Cole says. 

Copper Forest from ‘Copper Geographies: Metallic Threads’ © Ignacio Acosta

Archival Image I (Miners After Work, 1977)’, from the series ‘Coal Story‘ © Darek Fortas

The power of collective action is the subject of Rhiannon Adam’s installation piece, The Rift: Fracking in the UK. The poignant work documents the activists and residents who worked together to become the epicentre of the UK’s fracking resistance at Preston New Road.

“In these types of situations extraction is justified on the ground of profit and employment. Historically, oil was a means of bailing the UK out of economic crisis but this is concerning given that we have spent a fortune on bailing out industry and workers alike in recent years,” Ennis-Cole says.

“We are asking questions: How will the UK be saved this time? What will be the payback? What price will we be asked to pay?”

From ‘The Canary and the Hammer’ © Lisa Barnard

Film still from ‘Quarries of Wandering Stone: White Oil’ 2017 © Judy Rabinowitz Price

Intersectional Geographies is on at the Martin Parr Foundation in Bristol through April 3, 2022.

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