images ©Simon Norfolk
Mapping with a pyrograph, the melting away of the Lewis Glacier on Mt. Kenya.
By Simon Norfolk
These fire lines I have drawn represent where the front of the Lewis Glacier was at various times in the recent past; the years are given in the captions. In the distance, a harvest moon lights the poor, doomed glacier remnant; the gap between the fire and the ice ‘snout’ represents the relentless melting.
Project Pressure were the first people to inspire me to turn away from my usual fascination with warfare and to focus instead on the environment. They pointed me towards old maps, modern GPS data and mapping surveys from peer-reviewed journals. Equipping me with the correct maps was important to the documentary truthfulness of this project since I always saw it as mapping-in-reverse, a kind of unspooling of cartography. My work starts with the two-dimensional factuality of maps and then goes out and finds a kind of truth-on-the-ground, traces of time lying within the ground. Photographing time’s thickness, trying to expose it’s ‘layeredness,’ is a theme which has run through all of my work these last dozen years. It was clever of Project Pressure to see that what I find interesting about the landscapes of warfare could equally be applied to glacier retreat.
It seems entirely appropriate to make these pictures here. Mount Kenya is the eroded stump of a long-dead, 6,000m mega-volcano. Photographically, I hope to re-awaken its angry, magma heart. The mountain has an especially fierce demeanour, the peaks are childishly sheer and ragged, and since I first saw them I’ve been thinking of Gormenghast and Tolkien. The ‘Fire vs. Ice’ metaphor I employ is especially delicious for me. My fire is made from petroleum. My pictures contain no evidence that this glacier’s retreat is due to man-made warming (glaciers can retreat when the don’t get sufficient snow, or if the cloud cover thins, for example,) but it is nonetheless my belief that humans burning hydrocarbons are substantially to blame.
But there are romantic reasons to be here too. To be next to the ice is to feel privileged: like you are beside a colossal, sleeping giant. I imagine being close to a darted bull-elephant feels the same and I’m reminded of a 17th century Dutch painting of awestruck, bewildered burghers contemplating a stranded whalefish. Close-up one senses the glacier’s bulk, it’s coiled, dormant energy or it’s colossal longevity. And, of course, its cold, resigned indifference. One is hit by an overwhelming feeling of one’s own smallness and transience. Englishmen have been feeling this way about mountains for 300 years, since Romantic, Grand Tour travellers first astonished Swiss inn-keepers with the request for help in climbing to the heights. Nobody had done that before; for the fun of it, because it made you feel whole, because it feeds the soul. But this is the opposite – to think that in ten or twelve years this elegant, magnificent glacier will exist only in photographs is unbearable. The feeling I have for the losing of the Lewis can only be called grief.
So, see it now before it’s gone: get in quick before Mount Kenya is just an unadorned rocky stump, robbed of it’s crown. Unless of course you feel that flying around the world injecting tonnes of hot CO2 into the troposphere in order to witness the melting of Africa’s glaciers, is just a little too ironic.
Peter Funch’s incredible photographs from his time on Mount Baker, for Project Pressure, have been published in The New Yorker. Using his practiced RGB tricolor sepraration he was able to reflect on the movement of the temporary against the unmoving mountain. You can have a look at his comparative images and read an interview with him here.
Mount Damavand from a distance, image by Klaus Thymann.
While in Iran, Klaus Thymann and the expedition team were able to meet locals who rely on the glacial melt as a source of freshwater. They were able to experience life on the mountains and witness the dependence on agriculture in these regions. The Guardian have highlighted this in a recent photo story available to see here.
The series of archive and expedition photographs depict the urgency of the situation surrounding climate change and the individuals who rely on such natural ice forms to sustain life in remote areas. This expedition was funded by Polaroid Eyewear and the photographs will add to the growing, royalty-free archive we are compiling.
This month has seen all the rewards from Peter Funch’s Expedition: Mt Baker Kickstarter campaign get sent out. Rewards included postcards, inkjet prints, and behind the scenes newspapers. We will shortly be making the newspaper available to download for free. Make sure you subscribe to our newsletter so you don’t miss out.
Photographer and Project Pressure contributor Corey Arnold, has a solo exhibition, Wildlife, in which he once again brings his unique perspective as both an artist and commercial fisherman to present images that are at once beautiful and compelling.
The above image from Wildlife was taken when Arnold went to Svalbard, Sweden in 2013 to document glaciers for Project Pressure. As he recounts;
While on foot, hiking to nearby glaciers I would pass small herds of reindeer and spend time slowly stalking them… trying to get closer. After awhile, they would get used to me following them around and realized I was not a threat. I like the eye contact the reindeer is making with me, we are both analyzing each others thoughts, trying to figure out each other’s intentions. I’m always searching for connections with animals.
Wildlife is on at Charles A Hartman Fine Art in Portland, Oregon from 5th – 28th of November.
For more images from the expedition to Svalbard have a look at our online gallery.
It has been three weeks since photographer Peter Funch and his team Adam Kremer, Anatole Höcek, and Douglas Emery returned from Expedition: Mt. Baker. While these city boys certainly have been enjoying the luxuries of home it isn’t just the foot rubs and lattes that been getting in the way of the project’s distribution, as Funch explains:
The process that we used for the artistic side of the project, RGB tri color separation, gives me a lot to work with. I might have anywhere between 6 and 40 RGB images from the same point of view. Each one of these will have different elements that I can combine. The effect has been pleasantly surprising – the distortions, colors, blending of time, I think, is quite beautiful. But it takes a while to put these images together.
It seems that his trip was full of revelations and good fortune. When we asked Funch to relay a bit about the trip he sent us a copy of his notes from the field:
The crew set up the cameras while I wandered with a postcard in hand. It depicts Mt. Baker in yellow desaturated tones, a product of its age and the printing of the early 70s. The back of the card says that this shot was taken in 1972 by Fred Shaw on Kodak’s Ektachrome, the flowers in the foreground are by Indian Paint Brush, Mt. Baker’s elevation is 10,778’, as well as several other facts. It is a surreal experience looking up from the postcard and seeing almost the exact same image, but in reality many times more magnificent. I feel a bit funny continuously looking at the postcard while I walk back and forth, side to side, keeping my focus on matching the perspectives, ignoring the beauty, and trying not to fall down the sheer drop to my left.
Then it clicked.
I realized in this moment, seeing it for the first time, with the forty-two year old (almost my age) photograph in hand, just how much the glaciers have been receding. The top of the Coleman Glacier is still very similar. I could see the same crevasses cutting their deep lines across the Mountain’s surface… but these lines ended abruptly. Whereas before the ice extended to reach the cliff I stood on, going beyond the composition of the old postcard, it was now dusty bedrock, naked and grey. This wasn’t the huge recession I had seen in comparison photos. I was closer to the top of the glacier where less melting occurs. But it was real and clear and in front of me. The surrealism deepened as I imagined the ebb and flow of time, precipitate accumulation, melting, erosion, day and night, summer and winter, months, centuries, the relative fragility of the glacier, the fragility of myself compared to the ice, and a future person standing in my shoes wondering maybe the same things.
In total Expedition: Mt Baker has generated around 40 images that include approximately 20 recreations of old postcards, the RGB images, and new photographs from more accessible locations for future contributors. We would like to thank Project Pressure’s sponsors Rab UK for providing equipment and clothing for the expedition.
Photographer Klaus Thymann and documentary maker Michael Langhoff have just returned from one of Project Pressure’s most intrepid expeditions to date – a journey into the mountains of Iran to document the vital glaciers of this beautiful yet forbidding land.
The team spent 11 days in the country; starting a short distance from Tehran on Mount Damavand, part of the Elborz Mountain range, then completing the expedition at the inactive stratovolcano Mount Sabalan. Along with geotagged images of the region’s glaciers, Klaus and Michael also documented the backdrop of the journey, depicting the country’s heritage, culture and unique landscapes to generate press interest.
Watch this space for more Iran updates!
After an excellent Kickstarter campaign we have successfully secured funding for a new expedition. This summer, on behalf of Project Pressure, award-winning photographer Peter Funch will be heading to Mount Baker. Located in Washington State, USA; this Mountain is a unique place where the effects of climate change can be seen from the accumulation of over a century’s worth of photographic documentation.
Following in the footsteps of Ansel Adams, Peter Funch will capture these stunning and individual glaciers before it is too late. The end result will generate a direct comparison to Mount Baker’s historic visual legacy and provide a complimentary narrative to Mount Baker’s rich history and cultural significance. With Funch’s extensive experience this expedition is sure to be an eye-opening and unique opportunity.
Thank you to those who contributed and don’t forget it’s never too late to help, just click the link below.
One of greatest things about working on Project Pressure is meeting others who are studying, documenting and trying to understand the world’s glaciers and the ways they’re changing. We recently came across just such a group – a team of glaciologists from Aberystwyth University who are looking at debris-covered glaciers respond to climate change. We’ve lent them a Garmin GPS-enabled camera to help create geo-tagged images in the Khumbu region of Nepal, which can then be compared with previous photographs taken in 2003.
As they explain in more detail on their project webpage:
“Mountain glaciers rapidly advance or recede with variations in climate and modify the hydrological budgets of glaciated catchments. In mountainous regions such as the Himalaya, the impacts of glacier mass loss on water resources are likely to be severe and the risks to human life posed by glacial hazards will increase with climate change. However, making predictions of the impacts of future climate change on the mountain cryosphere is challenging, particularly for large debris-covered glaciers. We combine 3-D glaciological modelling, remote-sensing observations and the collection of field data to quantify how debris-covered glaciers respond to climate change.”
The team are currently ‘somewhere near Everest’ en route to their study area, but you can follow them every step of the way via their Twitter account and on ours.
Photo by Uwe Gille
Project Pressure directors Klaus Thymann and John Wyatt-Clarke speak about photography’s role in highlighting climate change in the latest issue of Fisheye. Issue #5 of the French photography/lifestyle magazine features an overview of the project with images from Sweden, Alaska and Uganda, alongside in-depth features on photography and rock music, Henri Cartier-Bresson and images of Madagascar.