The devastating effects of climate change can feel like they belong in a distant future, yet a photograph has the capacity to put a human face to a reality which is often entangled in political rhetoric.
Michael Hall is a Sydney-based photographer with over two decades of experience, who in 2007 began developing a higher awareness of the alarming effects of climate change. Around the same time, Hall suffered a near-fatal cycling accident with a semi-trailer, a life-changing experience which intensified this need to consider his relationship with the environment. The transformational period of recovery and reflection that followed inspired a project that has lasted 7 years and encompasses over 40 different places, from Borneo, to the Philippines, to the US.
When he was well enough, the photographer visited the Albury-Wodonga area at a time when Victoria was enduring one of the most devastating droughts in recent history. This encouraged Hall to take his work further afield to Iceland, which with its vast and hollow beauty provided both an opportunity to capture ice melt and a significant cathartic experience.
When Hall embarked to photograph deforestation in Kalimantan (The Eastern part of Borneo) in 2010 he discovered he was too late, “By the time I got there it was pretty much deforested, so I ended up photographing coal mines and palm plantations. This got me thinking about our own country.” Hall emphasises the need to be aware of climate change and work to ensure the gravity of its impact is adopted in the mainstream,
“It’s too easy to forget about this in Australia – wealth and comfort dull us. It’s important that people start taking action upon themselves, as change begins at the individual. Choose renewables and think about your superannuation investment. We must get over this fixation with a fossil fuel based economy.
I am delighted when I think about what the world can become – the beautiful, symbiotic relationship that humans can have with the natural environment. It’s entirely possible.”
The photographer captures not only the overwhelming natural landscapes – but the resilience of people affected by climate change. He recalls an evening in Tacloban in the Philippines. In November 2013, Tacloban was hit by Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful storms ever recorded. It killed thousands of people and left behind an apocalyptic wasteland of debris. When out photographing one evening, Hall noticed a man crouching beneath the haul of one of eight large ships that had been beached by the typhoon – with five candles lit in vigil. The man explained that he was having a quiet moment of remembrance for his wife and children who died in the storm and who’s bodies were still trapped underneath.
“Even in the face of such adversity the people I meet showed such resilience, it left me feeling humbled and hopeful that we humans can adapt to such adversity. But given the choice would we wish to. It’s essential that we remain consistently mindful of this global phenomenon and take responsibility for our impact on the planet.”
© Bleek Magazine. Text: Garrett Stringer.