Published on 10. 11. 2011 at 3:32 pm
OK, OK, perhaps you did think of the ice on Mount Kenya or Kilimanjaro (after the latter in particular has become one of the world’s adventure holiday destinations) but what about Mountains in Uganda? Have you ever even heard of them let alone know that even in this part of the “warm continent” glaciers existed?
And that, in a way, sums up one of the most important tasks which the Project Pressure team has set itself. For not only are they creating the world’s first glacier atlas, they also want to make sure the world is aware that by 2025 these fragile features will literally have melted away, along with the ice at the top of Kilimanjaro and the glaciers in the eponymous National Park in Montana.
Pressure founder is professional photographer Klaus Thymann who explains the thinking behind his mission.
“Pressure is an ambitious project operating on a global scale. The principal goal is to document the world’s changing glaciers, and to record first-hand the environmental impact of climate change. No such archive exists or, other than ours, is currently being generated.
“During the next ten years or so many glaciers will retreat or disappear and as a historic project, the relevance of Project Pressure will unfortunately increase as this occurs.
“The Glacier Atlas will attract attention from current generations, who will grow up experiencing the consequences of climate change. Documenting glacier history pre-melt will then provide future generations with a visual archive of the way the world was, and underscore the importance of preserving the balance of the world’s ecosystem.”
At first glance, it looks like Danish-born Klaus is operating well outside his comfort zone when he’s battling against the intense cold, the total isolation, the savage conditions which most of us can only share in our imaginations – or sitting in the warmth and comfort of our sitting rooms watching Sir David Attenborough on our television screens. After all, he is recognised as one of the foremost image-makers working today, with clients including New York Times, i-D magazine, GQ, Details, V, POP, Wired, Nokia, Levi’s, Nike and BMW.
However, his use of the natural environment is a key element in his signature style and his twenty year long work portfolio includes both a book entitled “Hybrids” in which he documented what he calls uncharted territory on the cultural map, including gay rodeo, underwater striptease, underground gardening and snow polo in St Moritz, and a lot of scientifically based work so, as he says: “I guess Project Pressure is a combination of the two.”
So, how does Klaus set about capturing the images which will feature not only in the Glacier Atlas but also in exhibitions and so on across the world?
Much of his “normal” work is shot digitally – in some cases it’s the only way the pictures he wants (or more particularly the pictures his clients demand) can be shot but on location it’s a medium format analogue camera and film he relies on.
Why? Simple, as he explains. Digital cameras are heavy, they need to have their batteries re-charged frequently and there’s no way of checking whether or not the chip is functioning properly in the conditions he’s working in.
An analogue camera, on other hand, is lighter and can be adjusted with a simple screwdriver while the film that goes in it just acclimatises itself to the ambient conditions.
Klaus initially thought of shooting 5×4 but found that too cumbersome so has settled for 120 format Fujifilm Reala 100 in a manual Hasselblad medium format camera, which is light enough for him to be able to carry a second body just in case of problems with the first.
The decision to take the analogue route was also influenced by the fact that when Project Pressure was launched in 2008, the file size typically produced by even the best digital camera wasn’t really that good and even today, he says, he still gets a resolution that’s at least twice as good as you can get with the best digital back, something which really shows up in the quality of exhibition prints.
And finally there’s a creative argument too – Klaus loves the square format which, he says, works really well with glaciers and with landscape.
“Reala,” he says, “is a beautiful all round film. While some films try to ‘compensate’ for nature, it’s true to nature. It holds details very well, the highlights don’t get tinted but the shadows have a kind of blue/green tint to them which they should have.”
All of these have to be processed, of course, and it’s BDI in London’s Old Street that has that task.
Unlike when he’s on a more “normal” shoot where digitally captured images are instantly viewable, Klaus doesn’t see the results of his Project Pressure work for several days, sometimes a couple of weeks but he doesn’t see that as a disadvantage. In fact the opposite applies. Indeed, if he has had a particularly difficult trek to a location he might leave looking at the contact sheets for another two or three weeks after getting them, because he doesn’t want his perception of what is a good image to be affected by how difficult it was to get it.
It’s at this point where both digital and analogue technologies come together. After scanning and once the final image is complete,information such as the date of the image, GPS positioning, compass readings, altitude and so on is entered into the meta data so it can be viewed on one of the digital platforms that are currently being developed.
While it’s intended that the Atlas will be produced at the end of 2013, after that there will be a platform called MELT, Mass Engagement and Listing Technology, where people will be able to add their own pictures, creating a continuing historic record of the way glaciers are affected by global warming.
Project Pressure is a not for profit organisation. If you want to find out more about its aims or if, more importantly, you want to help its work with a donation, go to www.project-pressure.org
If you want to learn more about those Ugandan glaciers, the effects that their melting is already having on Uganda and the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo and the difficulties of photographing them, http://emphas.is/web/guest/discoverprojects?projectID=325 is the link you’ll need.