28/08/2018 Interview with Simon Norfolk
Image: Shroud, Rhône Glacier, Switzerland, 2018 © Norfolk + Thymann
Interview with Simon Norfolk by Unseen Amsterdam.
“This year Unseen Amsterdam will be collaborating with Project Pressure to present When Records Melt, an exhibition dedicated to raising environmental awareness through photography. To truly get to the bottom of all that lies at the heart of the exhibition and the charity as a whole, we spoke to photographer Simon Norfolk, who worked recently alongside founder and director Klaus Thymann on a new collabrative project and the most recent commission created in collaboration with Project Pressure.
Can you tell us more about the new project Shroud you are working on with Klaus Thymann?
We made it on the Rhône Glacier in southern Switzerland which is disappearing at a colossal rate. Because there is a small shop there that carves an ice grotto into the glacier and charges tourists to experience inside the blue ice, it has been worth their money attempting to stop the glacier’s retreat. They have invested heavily in a special thermal blanket that has kept about 25m (in depth) of ice from disappearing and has kept the ice grotto in business. After a few winters on the mountain, the blanket is starting to show the effect of the harsh climate up there. We came up with a special light, using a helium balloon; top lit, sepulchral. I wanted to recreate the same light you get over a mortuary slab.
But it is the gesture that fascinates me; There is something insane about trying to reverse the inevitable. It has only been done here because this is a working glacier. (It is not scaleable: we cannot do this to all the world’s ice.) The gesture is as forlorn and doomed as the glacier itself.
What experience stood out for you during the expedition?
I’ve always found being in the presence of a glacier most haunting. Silent, withering, accusing. I’m 55 years old: my generation’s lifestyle burned away this ice. On a glacier I always feel in some sense, guilty.
The title suggests a connection with the theme of mortality. What message do you hope to send with this?
The glacier seemed to be being wrapped in preparation for its own funeral. This Life/Death state-change interests me enormously. We photographed the shroud to resemble Carrera marble which traditionally in western art has been used by the greatest artists to turn a lifeless stone block into the flowing liveliness of Sculpture. The ice of a glacier is made of water but looks and feels like hard stone. With time and the power of the ice, the strongest rocks on earth are plastic, as carve-able as butter. This glacier, which has existed for millennia will die within the lifetime of children born today. None of the physics of my little, suburban life seem to be quite reliable when we get up there at high altitude, at greater pressure and at much, much longer timespans.
You once said in an interview “Photography Has to Turn into a Moral Imperative”. What did you mean by that and how does this statement relate to the project?
I’m bored with a Photography that just wants to be decorative or novel. The vast majority of photography platforms are only there to make money and build the careers of the artists that make it. I’m more interested in using the privilege of my position to campaign. Mountains were the places where the great English 19th century Romantics that I so admire honed their passion and their commitment to the world. I want to see that feeling in all the Photography that I look at. For me the only worthwhile test in the face of art is “Is it honest?”
22/08/2018 Interview with Christopher Parsons
Image: Amph, Nepal, 2016 © Christopher Parsons
Interview with Christopher Parsons by Unseen Amsterdam.
“This year Unseen Amsterdam will be collaborating with Project Pressure to present When Records Melt, an exhibition dedicated to raising environmental awareness through photography. In anticipation of the exhibition, Project Pressure’s Christopher Parsons reflects on his Himalayan expedition—an expedition made possible by his Open Call win—the power of photography and our 21st century consumer society.
How did the experience with Project Pressure change you and your praxis?
The whole experience has been incredibly rewarding. The Himalayan trip showed me first-hand the devastating effect that our 21st century consumer society is having on the planet. Exploring and witnessing the retreating glaciers in the Himalaya region and hearing stories from the locals who have been affected by the drastic changes in the past few decades was truly eye-opening. The locals I met told me about everything from the 2015 earthquakes to how the glaciers are visibly retreating year on year, changing the course of rivers and bringing about flooding. The effect this is all having on their lives is utterly heart-breaking.
I live off-grid on board a narrowboat in and around London so I am already very conscious of my own personal consumption with only solar electricity, a finite supply of fresh water on board, limited waste disposal and limited space. The trip to Nepal highlighted and reinforced my concerns regarding climate change in a very dramatic way—standing in front of a glacier and being told that only 5 years ago it stretched right down to the village in the distance below us was frankly shocking! I want to endeavour to continue to reduce my own personal consumption, but we need change on a much larger scale to combat global warming and I hope this exhibition will help a wider audience see how real and urgent the problem is.
What was the most impressive moment of the expedition?
12:37pm on the 21st of October 2016. In a serene moment of elation I stood alone atop the summit of Chukkung Ri (5558m). It was Day 9 of the expedition and on the previous day I had made an acclimatisation trek up to Imja Glacier (5010m) after recovering from extreme altitude sickness on Day 6. The deep low I experienced with the altitude sickness followed by the extreme high of summiting Chukkung Ri solo, just 3 days later made for a moment that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
On top of the mountain I was surprised to find I had cellular reception, so I made a brief call and spoke with my father and then went on to photograph the two glaciers below me either side of the ridge, Nupste and Lhotse Nupse. These images can be seen at the Unseen Amsterdam exhibition alongside the cultured samples collected from the glaciers.
What did you take away from the collaborations with the scientists of the Glacier Trusts?
Spending over two weeks with nine scientists was a great opportunity for me to not only learn about the mountains and glaciers, but also the effect our irresponsible behaviour is having on the natural environment from a scientific point of view. I had the luxury of a wealth of knowledge that I could call upon throughout the trip and apply this to my work, giving my work a solid scientific basis as well as my own creative input.
The scientists helped with identifying the best vantage points from which to capture the glaciers and helped me to select the best locations to collect the samples that would form the basis of the secondary part of the project back in the UK. It is thanks to their expertise that this project has gone on to become a success, and without them I may not have captured the bacteria for the petri dish images.
Unseen believes in the artist as an investigator. Can photography change the world? What role can photography play in a big issue like climate change?
Photographs have the ability to bring about an instant awareness of a certain situation and inspire people, corporations and even governments to alter their course. Photography can use all mediums, especially the internet, to reach global audiences about issues such as climate change. Images of plastic ridden beaches, and the great pacific garbage patch have already inspired change within companies, communities and consumers. Informed consumers can become a force for good, putting pressure on big corporations to make changes.
My ultimate aim is to encourage the viewer to step back and consider the effect of our irresponsible abuse of natural resources. The juxtaposition of the microscopic beauty against the expansive landscapes, along with the clash of science and art will encourage the viewer to give climate change some thought. I hope that my images along with the work of Project Pressure can become the catalyst to create the positive reaction required to force change.”
16/08/2018 Interview with Klaus Thymann
Image: From the expedition to East Greenland, 2012 © Project Pressure
Interview with Klaus Thymann by Unseen Amsterdam.
“In the run-up to this year’s Unseen festival, we will be interviewing the artists behind Project Pressure’s exhibition When Records Melt. This week we caught up with the organisation’s Founder and Director, Klaus Thymann, to discuss what first drew him towards life as a scientist and the way in which Project Pressure combines scientific skill and photography to inspire behavioural change in a thought-provoking and exciting way.
Why did you become a scientist? Can you explain how your science background influenced your photographic praxis?
I never pursued higher education when I was younger as I started shooting professionally at the age of 15. But I always wanted to study. With Project Pressure, we collaborate with a lot of scientists and scientific organisations, so it seemed natural for me to study a degree in environmental science as I was reading a lot of papers and literature in the area. Having a photography background and a scientific education allows me to create projects with artistic depth and a solid scientific foundation. Art is great, but dealing with environmental issues can easily become superficial. Environmental issues are often systemic, globally influenced by multiple factors and associated with a lot of complexity. It is difficult to understand the details and even harder to communicate it; I hope my knowledge can help deliver inspiring as well as comprehensive projects.
What inspired you to found Project Pressure? You started Project Pressure in 2008. What has changed since then and what hasn’t?
I have a deep love for nature and I was getting very anxious about the lack of response to climate change. Unfortunately, scientific facts are not sexy and inviting to engage with. I was hoping to inspire people with Project Pressure to engage with the otherwise difficult subject. In the past 10 years, we have passed the point where climate change can be avoided as there is just too much CO2 in the atmosphere. It is a massive collective failure. Now we have to look at limiting further emissions but also adapting to the effects of climate change. I am not sure this will work, not sure if there is a plan B, but there is definitely no planet B. We only have this earth.
We slowly transferred to using the expression ‘climate change’ instead of ‘global warming’. What do you think the reasons are for this?
The scientific community never used the phrases interchangeably, but the reason for the current separation is the public has a better understanding of the complexity and mechanisms involved. Initially, the general public thought the only effect of climate change would be warming, but I think now with floods, fires and sea-level rising it is clear that climate change is more than just a warming of global mean temperatures, hence the use of the term ‘climate change’.
What other exciting projects do you have lined up for this year?
When Records Melt at Unseen is really just the launch of Project Pressure’s travelling exhibition; we have several venues and museums lined up for shows over the next few years. For instance, in 2019, we’ll show in Vienna at the Natural History Museum. What is really exciting about Project Pressure is how many great artists we work with, there are many more involved than the artists showing at Unseen so we can maintain an element of surprise.”
Under the title Vanishing Glaciers, Project Pressure will be presented at the Jockey Club Museum of Climate Change – Hong Kong
Walking through the museum audiences can see photographs by the artists; Corey Arnold, Michael Benson, Scott Conarroe, Peter Funch, Simon Norfolk and Klaus Thymann.
The walls are covered in full height printed canvases with glacier images shown in a saloon style layout. As you walk through the museum you pass through the seven continents, experiencing all types of glaciers be that on top of volcanoes, tidal-glaciers connecting with the sea or classic valley glaciers.
Project Pressure will also present a new way of showing comparative images, the team worked with Erik Schytt Holmlund who sourced images from 1946, 1959, 1980 and 2017 of the Tarfala Valley, Sweden and using photogrammetry created 3D models with photorealistic surfaces. In a video journey we fly through the landscape as we fade between the years and see how the glaciers are retreating.
On March 22nd 2018 at 3pm Professor Fok Tai-fai, Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Vice-President, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, will introduce Vanishing Glaciers. This is followed by a keynote titled “Using art to communicate Climate Change” by Klaus Thymann, founder of Project Pressure.
March 22nd – June 30th 2018.
Monday, Tuesday, Thursday to Saturday: 9:30 am – 5:00 pm.
Closed on Wednesday, Sunday, Public Holidays and University Holidays.
Jockey Club Museum of Climate Change
Yasumoto International Academic Park 8/F
The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shatin, NT, Hong Kong
25/10/2017 Tracking a century of glacial change
Klaus Thymann recently visited Helagsfjället, a mountain in Sweden, to document how the area’s ice has changed over time. The mountain is home to the most southern of Sweden’s many glaciers and is part of the Scandinavian Mountains. At 1797 metres above sea level, it’s the highest mountain in the country south of the Arctic Circle – but even at this altitude its glacier is shrinking.
The purpose of Thymann’s recent trip was to create an updated comparative image for Project Pressure’s archive collaboration with World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS) correspondent Per Holmlund. A glaciologist and professor in the Department of Physical Geography at Stockholm University, Dr Holmlund helped us locate a picture of Helags from 1908.
As he explains, “The 1908 pictures were taken by Fredrik Enquist who at that time was a student at Uppsala University. He had a grant from the Swedish Tourist Association to perform investigations of the glaciers in the Helags and Sylarna massif using terrestrial photogrammetry. The resulting maps, some of the photos and other information was published in a report at the Swedish geological survey in 1910. The areal change from 1908 until now is about 50% – which is significant. In general, Swedish glaciers have lost about 30% of their former extent.”
Above: the glacier’s retreat is clearly visible when comparing the images from 1908 and 2017 –
both are panoramic images stitched together from multiple exposures.