|Benjamin Drummond / Sara Joy Steele|
News from BDSJS and Facing Climate Change
The September issue of Photo District News is devoted to “photographers making a difference,” not just documenting problems, but actively working to solve them. We were honored (and extremely excited) to have our work featured on the cover, table of contents and in the opening spread. The article discusses our work with Facing Climate Change along with profiles of a diverse and humbling group of photographers including luminaries James Nachtwey and Jonathan Torgovnik. It’s an inspiring read. A big thanks to executive editor Holly Hughes for taking the time to understand what we’re working on and discuss the challenges and rewards of this type of work. My respect and appreciation for what the folks at PDN do for the photo community continues to grow!
For those who missed it in print, our profile is below:
Benjamin Drummond and Sara Joy Steele’s Facing Climate Change
Lots of climate change projects document scientific research. “We were interested in framing this as a people issue,” says photographer Benjamin Drummond who, with partner Sara Joy Steele, tells stories about individuals coping with environmental challenges. They have been invited to show “Facing Climate Change” before a wide range of audiences: They regularly talk to college students, they have made presentations at conferences of scientists and environmental lawyers, and they are preparing to show the work they did documenting prison inmates enrolled in green-job training. Says Drummond, “Presenting personal stories to illustrate a highly complex, highly scientific issue is a way to plug people into thinking about climate change as the major concern for our generation, our kids and our grandchildren.”
The project began when Drummond and Steele funded their own trip to Iceland, Greenland and Norway to document three communities affected by climate shifts: fishermen on the North Atlantic, semi-nomadic reindeer herders, and a group of amateur glacier monitors. When the pair returned home to Seattle in 2007, they made prints that were exhibited in three Patagonia stores and at climate change conferences and teach-ins around the Northwest. Through a combination of word of mouth and their own efforts in reaching out to schools and other institutions, Steele and Drummond were soon receiving more and more invitations to show their work. Needing a more portable format than a traveling print show, they decided to combine Steele’s audio interviews with Drummond’s photos into a multimedia presentation. “We thought this was a fantastic way to give voice to our subjects,” Drummond says. “It’s hard to argue with someone who is sharing their immediate personal challenges, hopes and fears.”
Though they focus on how the changing climate affects individuals, Drummond is quick to note, “That’s not to say we’re not fixated on getting the science right.” They start by researching the latest scientific findings, “Then we look for subjects who illustrate the science.”
They are currently producing stories closer to home. This summer, they will be embedded with wildfire fighters in Western states. Drummond explains, “The significant impact stories are here in the U.S. as much as they are elsewhere.” They have raised funds from several sources. Supported by the Blue Earth Alliance, they solicit tax-deductible contributions. In recent months, environmental groups have hired them to create multimedia projects which will allow them to add new images to their “Facing Climate Change” archive. They just documented high school students enrolled in a training program with the National Parks Foundation and the Northern Cascades Institute, and plan to follow the students after they return to their communities to launch their own sustainability projects. Having photographed a jobs training program for prison inmates learning about sustainability issues, Steele and Drummond plan to return to show them photos of the program alongside images of Nordic reindeer herders.
Whenever he makes his presentation, Drummond says, he most enjoys the question-and-answer sessions. “The viewer is left to fill in the holes, and bring their own experience to the images they’re viewing and the stories they are listening to.”
—Holly Stuart Hughes