EverydayClimateChange with James Whitlow Delano

EverydayClimateChange with James Whitlow Delano

Whether you believe in an anthropogenic cause of climate change, it’s undeniable that the climate is changing in a noticeable way. 2015 has been the hottest year on record, and has seen 9 months break all-time average temperature records. December will almost certainly become the 10th with temperatures soaring into the 70s in New York City on Christmas Eve. Photographer James Whitlow Delano took notice and launched @everydayclimatechange on January 1, 2015, enlisting the help of photographers on six continents to raise awareness to an issue that could threaten the lives of hundreds of millions of people.

Photo by Sean Gallager

What inspired you to create the Instagram account?

I’ve documented the environment, along with human rights issues for over two decades. The International Center of Photography asked me to take over their Instagram feed in the fall of 2014 and suddenly I realized that the issue of climate change was a thread running though and it bound together so much of the work I have done. Everything suddenly seemed to fall into place.

At precisely the same time, I showed environmental work of petroleum exploitation taking place in Ecuador’s Amazonas at a photo festival in France, where I met EverydayAfrica co-founder, Peter DiCampo. I was impressed with his project and with him as a person. When I returned to Japan, I floated the idea of launching an Instagram feed on climate change within the loose “everyday” family. Peter encouraged me to do this and so I launched the feed on 1 January 2015.

Photo by Ed Kashi/VII Photo

How did you solicit photographers for the effort?

I have been the recipient of a great deal of generosity from the photo community. In 2010, I published a book, “The Mercy Project/Inochi” (Madosha) to raise awareness and funds for hospice care, after my only sister quickly passed from cancer. She received merciful care at a hospice in California and I wanted to give back. 118 photographers stepped up, when I asked them to send me photos that said “mercy” to them.

So, by the time I decided to launch @everydayclimatechange, I knew how readily photographers step up to such a challenge. I went back to the well again and photographers came forward, if they were doing climate change work. The level of photography has been exceptional.

Photo by Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert

Photos of climate change aren’t necessarily “obvious” at first glance (unless it’s a side-by-side comparison of a glacier). What are some of the visual challenges in taking on such a project?

Often what we like to talk about are people or communities. There will be many images describing the direct effects to the environment but there are just as many, or even more, images that speak to climate change effects on people. We take this broader look at the issue of climate change. It is my job to be certain that photos that are off subject, or captions that make assertions that cannot be fact checked, are reined in.

We encourage followers to participate and constructively criticize photos. In fact, if people have Instagram feeds and post work #everydayclimatechange, and if the photograph addresses the issue well, we will repost the photo on @everydayclimatechange, fully credited. I have found new talent this way and have a few core members who were found this way.

Another key component, content-wise is to present solutions. To every problem, there exist solutions. So this is a critical aspect to the feed.

I do have to say, after two decades documenting humanity’s relationship to the environment in China and the rainforests of Southeast Asia, however, it has been my goal to communicate a real sense of crisis. I believe if people generally do not grasp the magnitude of the problem, it will be all too easy to push off genuine efforts to put this issue of global warming right off to another generation. That is no longer an option. This is the challenge or our generation and the next.

Photo by Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert

What do you hope to accomplish with the account?

I am realistic about the effect we can have. My goal, our goal, is to raise awareness and contribute to the drip, drip, drip of information that can help make a fundamental way we view our environment, nature and how our consumption affects the planet’s climate systems. Ultimately, this all leads back to us. It is not a problem happening “over there.” It is happening right here.

It is important to say that we have member photographers living on 6 continents. So, this is not a northern take, or post-industrial world take on climate change. It is at once global and local.

Photo by Matilde Gattoni

Has any of the featured work led to jobs/commissions for the photographers?

This is a tricky question for me because I already had several assignments in the works at the time of the launch and the feed is still quite young. I cannot speak for other photographers on this subject. Climate change stories, unfortunately, do not garner as much interest in the editorial world as does war or spot news. So, I spend a lot of time trying to establish the connection of a climate change event on the other side of the planet with consumer habits in New York, Paris, Tokyo or Singapore. Personally, I have documented oil palm in Malaysia, desertification in Inner Mongolia,
air pollution near Beijing, melting glaciers in the Alps and how rising seas are threatening slum dwellers in Manila. So, the feed has energized my thinking and photography.

All that said, I can say directly, that @everydayclimatechange (ECC) has been exhibited and presented in Europe, Asia and North America this year. I also had the distinct pleasure of presenting the issue of climate change and ECC to schools in Chicago a few weeks ago. These activities are the core goal of ECC to spread the word far and wide.

Photo by Caroline Bennett

You’re using photography as a way to promote a social/environmental topic that is personal to you. What advice would you give to other photographers who are taking more “activist” roles with their photography?

I would recommend that they aggressively follow their passion but enter into such a path being mindful of what they want to do and can do. Great things start out small. So, realistic expectations will give them endurance
and strength. Think about your audience and how to effectively communicate to them the issue, whatever it may be. It may or may not generate income. Whether that is a goal, is up to each photographer. Living in the post-industrial world is not free, however. So, when considering goals, they must be realistic time-wise because you may have to meet your fiscal responsibilities another way. You may to allot time to do that, and there area only 24 hours in a day. You should take on a cause with a goal to inform and leave the world a better place; and if that goal gels with your personal vision, then the hard work and long hours will be well worth it.

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This article was written by

Allen Murabayashi is the co-founder of PhotoShelter.

There are 2 comments for this article
  1. Alexander Jemeljanov at 4:16 am

    Hi Allen, thank you for pointing us to this important problem. My hope that global warming now is just a natural process like we had The Little Ice Age period. It is a period between about 1300 and 1870 during which Europe and North America were subjected to much colder winters than during the 20th century.

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