The winners of the environmental photographer of the year competition were announced earlier this week at COP26. The competition is organised by the environmental and water management charity, CIWEM and free environmental streaming platform, WaterBear. The latter has found fame with the award-winning documentary My Octopus Teacher depicting a filmmaker’s friendship with an octopus living in a South African kelp forest.
The award aims to “celebrate humanity’s ability to survive and innovate and showcases thought-provoking images that call attention to our impact and inspire us to live sustainably”. The submissions reflect the power that photography has to expose, reveal and initiate action. This year, over 7,000 images from professional and amateur photographers were submitted from 119 different countries.
While images covered a wide range of topics all related to climate change, perhaps the most striking aspect of the winning images is their focus on childhood, and the children’s helplessness in front of environmental collapse.
The winning photograph: “The Rising Tide Sons” depicts a sleeping child in a destroyed house
The winning image, titled “The Rising Tide Sons” was taken by Spanish photographer Antonio Aragón and depicts a child sleeping inside a house destroyed by coastal erosion on Afiadenyigba beach in Ghana. The photo highlights the rising sea levels in West African countries because of climate change, which are forcing huge numbers of people to leave their homes.
The juxtaposition between the innocence of a small child and the harsh exposed walls and open doorway revealing the expansive ocean, effectively demonstrates the extremity of coastal erosion problems. Despite the open doorway and lack of ceiling, the thin bars on the window and wide-angle view into the house, allude to a sense of entrapment within our humanity-induced climate problems.
In the photo: Environmental photographer of the year: The Rising Tide Sons – Togo, West Africa, 2019. Photo Credit: Antonio Aragon Renuncio
More than 4,900 miles (8,000km) of seacoast has been swallowed up in 13 African countries. These rising sea levels are forcing the ocean floor to readjust by removing sediment from the coast, washing it away from the shore.
Young Environmental Photographer of Year calls attention to our impact on the planet with “Inferno” featuring a child
The winner of the Young Environmental Photographer of the Year Award, Amaan Ali from India has also captured a scene that highlights humanity’s impact on the planet with his photo “Inferno”. Taken in Yamuna Ghat, New Delhi, the picture contains “a boy fighting fires in a forest near his home”.
Like Antonio Aragón’s photograph, the child demonstrates the impact of climate change on children who are growing up to face more and more of the environmental catastrophes caused by climate change. However, the red flames in vague circular patterns all over the grasslands and the young boy actively trying to prevent the fire from spreading, captures the urgency in which action must be taken.
In the photo: Young environmental photographer of the year – Nikon award: Inferno, New Delhi, India. Photo Credit: Amaan Ali
According to locals living in New Delhi, forest fires caused by human activity in the area are a common occurrence due to adverse living conditions.
The winner of the “climate action” category Kevin Ochieng Onyango from Kenya features once again a child, the photograph of a young boy trying to take in air from a plant through a face mask, straw and plastic bag with a “sandstorm brewing in the background, in an artistic impression of the changes to come”. The photo aims to draw attention to the importance of planting trees to help prevent climate change by their removal of carbon dioxide from the air, storing carbon in the soil, and releasing oxygen into the atmosphere.
The shot demonstrates the significance of small actions and like the winning photograph by Aragón and young photographer award winner, Ali, Onyango uses the image of a young child to demonstrate the impact of climate change on young people.
In the photo: Winner – climate action: The Last breath, Nairobi, Kenya. Photo Credit: Kevin Ochieng Onyango
Other winners focus on our impact on the environment to illustrating techno-solutions – “Inspiring us to live sustainably”
The winning photo in the “water and security” category taken by Sandipani Chattopadhyay from India, exposes the impact of humans on the environment with a bird’s-eye view of algae blooms on the Damodar river in West Bengal, India. The algae blooms are caused by irregular monsoon seasons and droughts. The booms prevent light from penetrating the surface and oxygen absorption by organisms below the surface. This has a knock-on effect on habitats in the area and human health.
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Other awards have been given to photographers who have focussed on sustainable solutions to the environmental impact of climate change. For example, the winner of the “sustainable cities” category, Simone Tramonte from Italy, is a photo of a photobioreactor in Iceland intended to represent “Net-Zero Transition”. The photobioreactor produces sustainable astaxanthin (a type of anti-oxidant) from micro-algae using 100% geothermal energy.
The shortlisted photograph, titled “Nemo’s Garden”, taken underwater by Giaocamo d’Orlando from Italy, depicts an alternative system of agriculture especially for areas where environmental conditions make plant growth difficult. The self-sustainable project aims to make underwater farming an eco-friendly solution to “counteract the increasing climate pressures on our future”.
In the photo: Shortlisted: Nemo’s Garden, Noli, Italy, 2021. Photo Credit: Giacomo d`Orlando
These photographs containing impressive-looking and viable large-scale solutions for adapting to and preventing the environmental impact of climate change, are inspirational.
How can photography instigate climate action? The answer from a conservation photographer: “Storytelling can turn apathy into action”
Conservation photographer, Cristina Mittermeier, discusses the impact of storytelling through photography. She argues that “storytelling can turn apathy into action” and that it is “critical in unlocking climate action in this decade”.
Photographs are able to convey the message in an arresting way, capturing a small part of a larger story, asking viewers to question its position in a particular story and what implications it might have for situations outside of the story.
This is why an increasing number of scientists, leaders and innovators are working with photographers to bring the stories of their critical solutions to wide audiences. For example, the Only One Collective, with over 8,000 supporters, works to develop visual storytelling to build a base of support for ocean conservation and climate action.
Competitions such as the Environmental Photographer of the Year, bring attention to the power of photography in exposing the impact of climate change and sparking action. The focus on children as the hapless, innocent victims of climate change is a winner, a topic destined to move the public far more than any other. And the range of countries represented in the competition – 119 out of the 193 member states of the United Nations – augurs well for the future of photography as a paladin in the fight against climate change.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists are their own, not those of Impakter.com. — In the Featured Photo: Environmental photographer of the year: The Rising Tide Sons – Togo, West Africa, 2019 [edited – zoomed in on sleeping child]. Featured Photo Credit: Antonio Aragon Renuncio