What We Learned This Week: Changing the Image of Climate Change

By David Schonauer   Friday November 8, 2019

Coverage of climate change is starting to change.

This week we noted that The Guardian, a UK newspaper with a global audience, is rethinking how it will visually represent the issue. Bottom line: Expect to see fewer polar bears and more humans. “We have been working across the organization to better understand how we aim to visually communicate the impact the climate emergency is having across the world,” noted Guardian picture editor Fiona Shields in an article addressing the newspaper’s new approach.

She added, “Our goal is to provide guidelines for anyone working with images at the Guardian. We are also asking the agencies and photographers we work with to provide images that are appropriate to the changing narrative.”

In July, we featured a video from Liz Banse, a visual storyteller and vice president of Resource Media, and Adam Corner of ClimateVisuals, a climate change communications research organization, explaining how to tell more relevant climate change stories with photos and video. Banse and Corner researched people’s reactions to different types of imagery and video and came away with 10 principles on how to move people to action on climate change. They emphasized the importance of telling stories about people — not the kind of people you see in stock photos, but real people, in unstaged settings — and striking a balance between difficult imagery and imagery that leaves the audience with some sense of hope or empowerment."

The Guardians editors, noted Shields, drew on this research when they began looking for new ways to cover climate change visually.

“Often, when signaling environmental stories to our readers, selecting an image of a polar bear on melting ice has been the obvious – though not necessarily appropriate – choice,” she wrote. “These images tell a certain story about the climate crisis but can seem remote and abstract – a problem that is not a human one, nor one that is particularly urgent.

“So it made sense when we heard that research conducted by the team at Climate Visuals has shown that people respond to human pictures and stories,” she continued. “Images that show emotion and pictures of real situations make the story relevant to the individual.”

Shields also invited journalists and editors working on climate crisis stories to join the conversation about how it should be covered. You can do so at

Here are some of the other photo stories we spotlighted this week:

1. American Photography Open 2019: Meet the Winner, Alain Schroeder

Yesterday we introduced the winner of the American Photography Open 2019 competition — Alain Schroeder, a Brussels, Belgium-based photojournalist who has worked all around the globe, from Thailand and Tuscany to Crete and Vietnam. From October 2018 through April 2019, he was in Sumatra, Indonesia, to document the plight of the area's critically endangered orangutans. His photograph of an abused three-month-old female orangutan named Brenda being treated for a severely broken arm earned Schroeder the top spot in this year's contest.

2. Photographer Lynn Goldsmith and Her Muse Patti Smith

Poet and punk legend Patti Smith and legendary rock-and-roll photographer Lynn Goldsmith have known each other — and been creative partners — for years, noted Vogue, which was on hand when the pair gathered recently at New York’s Morgan Library to talk about their new book, Before Easter After (Taschen), which features images that Goldsmith shot of Smith, in good times and bad: She was there the night in 1977 when Smith fell off a stage and fractured several vertebrae.

3. Exalting the Banality of California Skate Parks

Devoid of their usual inhabitants, the skate parks dotting the stretches of California are works of art in the eyes of photographer Amir Zaki. His new book, California Concrete: A Landscape of Skateparks, features Zaki's photos of 12 major skate parks throughout the Golden State. “The brutalist structures that emerge at these sites, from San Jose's Cunningham Lake to Linda Vista in San Diego, fill a void in landscape photography and capture a pivotal cultural moment,” praised NPR.

4. The Mountain-Climbing Cholitas of Bolivia

New Zealand-born Todd Antony moved to London 15 years ago to work as a commercial photographer and pursue personal projects. Among the latter, noted Feature Shoot, is his series “Cholita Climbers,” which documents indigenous Aymara women of Bolivia who summited the 22,841-foot peak of Mt. Aconcagua — the highest mountain outside of Asia — in January. “The word ‘cholita’ has previously been used as a pejorative term for the indigenous Aymara women of Bolivia. But these woman are reclaiming it as a badge of honor,” Antony said.

5. A Tale of Life, Land, Loss, and Horses

Take a breath before watching the documentary Inhale, we advised: Filmmaker Sean Mullan offers up an eyeful of visual details — close-up footage, drone-shots and slow-motion — and an earful, with a haunting soundtrack by cellist Kim Vaughan, Mullan's cousin. He combines it all with a powerful story that seem to be about his Uncle Jim's secrets for training horses. But the 16-minute film evolves into something else: an existential tale examining mortality. "I was so intrigued to collaborate with Jim's land, horses, body and mind," Mullan says.
At top: from Todd Antony’s series “Cholita Climbers”


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