I walked out of the Saatchi gallery in London yesterday feeling depressed and challenged. I had just walked around an exhibition of photographs by the winners of the Carmignac Photojournalism award. The two photographers Yuri Kozyrev and Kadir Van Lohuizen had travelled the Arctic looking at the causes and effects climate change is bringing to the region.
The Arctic is close to my heart. I worked in a school in the Northwest Territories town of Inuvik in 2003 and travelled with the Inuit across Banks Island. At the time, it was the social issues of the area that struck me most forcibly and to my eyes, the Arctic in Winter was still as you would expect, bone searingly cold and snowy but already there was talk among the indigenous communities of the changes in sea ice and hunting.
This exhibition yesterday gave me a broader view of what’s happening. I stood in front of a photo of a Russian power station, which the caption told me caused the same amount of pollution per year as the whole of France, and wanted to sink to my knees with helplessness.
I saw landscapes poisoned by Nickel mining, vast rivers flowing from glaciers, villages which would soon be underwater. I felt powerless. What could I do to stop that? Do you know, it’s bringing tears to my eyes just thinking of it.
What can I do to stop that?
Helplessness is so…well, unhelpful. It makes you feel that nothing you can do as an individual will make a jot of difference. Please don’t tell me it won’t. I have to think that it can.
Never, never should anyone tell people the horrors of climate change without providing them with a list of things they can do to change it. Give them access to a computer at the end so that they can channel those feeling immediately into action.
But, I am not stupid. Even without this I know what I can do.
I can not, for instance, buy the products of polluting companies. I can not invest my savings in companies that support dirty energy. I can go and protest against Donald Trumps planned visit to the UK.
I could tell you I will never take a flight again and I will go vegan but I’m afraid I would probably be lying. There in lies the difficulty and the challenge. People won’t be forced down routes that rub up too sharply against their pleasures. I like travel, I like cheese and if you make me give these things up, I will resent it.
But I feel challenged enough by these images that I will do something about it. I will do one thing today to try to say no to whatever the dark governments and business of this world would lead us to.
Well done Yuri and Kadir, well done Carmignac. It was a brave and I’m sure at times dangerous assignment. It has made a difference, to me at least and that is what photo journalism should do.