What if someone asked photographers to document disappearing glaciers in an artful way? And what if that person set up meetings with scientists to ensure the photographs would be scientifically useful? And
what if the public were allowed to contribute their own glacier photos
through an open-source digital platform?
These are questions photographer Klaus Thymann began asking
himself in 2008. Though he was not an environmental activist
at that point, Thymann says that as a Dane, he’d been exposed to
environmental news and that “climate change had been on my
radar for some time.” A photographer who has shot fine art as well
as commercial assignments for such clients as Adidas and Johnnie
Walker, Thymann had previously done an ambitious global project,
“Hybrids,” in which he mapped and photographed hybrid cultures
such as gay rodeo in Los Angeles and underwater striptease in Chile.
“I have a fascination with mapping, but after “Hybrids” I told myself,
‘I’ll never do anything that complicated again,’” he says with a laugh.
Famous last words. While conceiving the glacier project, it seemed
only appropriate to Thymann to include multiple photographers.
“I was aware that if this was a one-photographer project, it would
play on heroic stereotypes of man against mountain, and devalue the
message,” he says. Likewise, having collaborators in the science world
seemed important, to give the project heft and integrity.
Accordingly, one of Thymann’s first moves was to meet with scientists
at the World Glacier Monitoring Service, which collects statistics on
glacier change. He also recruited several co-directors, including London-based photography agent John Wyatt-Clarke (who initially trained as a
geologist), and veteran NGO director Marjorie Thompson. Naming the
project? Easy. Since climate change is “the most pressing issue we’re
facing,” Thymann says, it would be Project Pressure.
With his administrative team in place, Thymann began looking for
photographers. Though Project Pressure is a documentary effort, he
chose to work with fine-art photographers. “I have a lot of respect for
documentary photographers, but I think people who work in artistic
practice can conceptualize things more deeply,” he says. “That’s
important, because we want to create work that can reach people on a
deep level and inspire them to engage.”
As each photographer came on board, Project Pressure helped
organize funding and equipment, usually provided by sponsors. For
Corey Arnold’s 2013 project in Svalbard, Norway, Project Pressure
secured a grant from The Lighthouse Foundation. To pay to send Peter
Funch to photograph Mount Baker in Washington State in 2014, Project
Pressure mounted a successful Kickstarter campaign, and got Polaroid
Eyewear to donate what Thymann calls “a sizable amount.”
For Funch, a New York-based Danish conceptual photographer,
participating in the project wasn’t an obvious move (“Me,
photographing glaciers?” he thought at first), but excitement
grew when he found archival images of Mount Baker to replicate,
resulting in direct comparisons that show the glacier’s shrinkage.
His striking photographs, composed of layers shot separately
through red, green and blue filters, recall old postcards whose color
combining has gone slightly awry. “This is a charity, but I feel it’s so
much my own project too,” he says. Last December, The New Yorker
featured a portfolio of his images, which was a boost for Funch and
Project Pressure alike.
The work has been featured on the Project Pressure website, which
is coded by Andrew Habermann, a programmer in Germany who has
donated his time and skills to the project. In its next phase, Project
Pressure will launch an open-source digital platform for members of the
public to upload their own photographs of glaciers, shot on vacations,
which will form a database of comparative imagery. A beta version is
currently being tested. Thymann is hoping to roll the database out by
the end of 2015, and says that, unlike the artist projects to date, it will
be “more of a data-gathering platform.” He loves the fact that Project
Pressure is growing, and taking on a life of its own. “It’s something I
started, but it’s not my idea any more,” he says. “It’s a networked activity,
and it feels good to relinquish control.” —SARAH COLEMAN
LEFT: The approximate 500-meter elevation is the reason equatorial glaciers can exist in Africa. Speke, Uganda, 2012. RIGH T: Photographer and commercial fisherman
Corey Arnold has documented glaciers in Svalbard for Project Pressure. OPPOSI TE PAGE: “Latitude 48° 48’ 52.068” N, Longitude 121° 45’ 37.266” W, Ptarmigan Ridge,
Looking to Sholes Glacier” from Peter Funch’s Expedition to Mount Baker with Project Pressure.