What We Learned This Week: Images of Australia on Fire, and a Plea to Conserve in 2020

By David Schonauer   Friday January 10, 2020

Australia is on fire.

This week we featured a CNN portfolio of news service photographs showing the extent of the bushfires raging across the continent. Among the most memorable images: A photo of a kangaroo rushing past a burning house in Lake Conjola, Australia, on December 31, taken by Matthew Abbott (above).

That image, now an emblem of the crisis, also led off a portfolio from Time magazine, which noted that more than 12 million acres have burned, and that while bushfires are annual events, an unprecedented heat wave and drought conditions have exacerbated the problem this year.

“More than 20 people have died in the blazes — including firefighters — and almost 2,000 homes have been destroyed,” reported Time. “Prime Minister Scott Morrison called up some 3,000 military reservists on Jan. 4 to help deal with the disaster as temperatures soared to 120 degrees Fahrenheit in one Sydney suburb. “Thousands have been forced to flee their homes in the country’s southeastern region, where slightly cooler temperatures and some rain are now offering shades of relief.”

Morrison has faced criticism for his late response to the crisis and his stance on climate change. “While he has acknowledged that climate change could be creating the weather conditions that have made this bushfire season one of the most disastrous on record, he has argued that there is no direct link between Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions and the severity of the fires,” noted Time.

Meanwhile, we also recently spotlighted an essay at PetaPixel written by Mitch Green, a landscape photographer based in New South Wales, Australia, asking photographers to “act to conserve the land they love to capture.”

“This isn’t a piece debating the causes and effects of climate change,” wrote Green. “Breathing in smoke as fire rages through bone-dry bushland, I can attest that this environmental change is real. And my own country’s reckless resource grabs are much at fault.”

Green urged photographers to keep capturing beautiful landscapes as a way of inspiring others “to better appreciate and value the world around them.” Also, he noted, you could consider donating a portion of print sales to conservation funds, and to go green when you travel.

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

1. On the Front Lines of Libya's Civil War

Since the ouster of longtime dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi during the Arab Spring of 2011, Libya has been in the throes of political strife; last spring, renegade military leader Khalifa Hifter launched an offensive against the country’s UN-backed government. The civil war, and a battle for Tripoli, is creating a new humanitarian crisis, while offering an opening to ISIS and Russia’s interests in the region, noted The Washington Post, which featured reporting from the front lines of the civil war by photojournalist Lorenzo Tugnoli.

2.  Documenting An Old-School Gym, and Facing Mortality

Norm Diamond, retired Dallas physician, was walking down Commerce Street in that city when he saw a beautifully dilapidated two-story building and a 1950s-era gold-and-black sign for an old-school establishment called Doug’s Gym. Diamond, who has studied photography with Cig Harvey and other artists, decided to document the gym, with its peeling paint and sagging floors. But the images he ended up making, now collected in a book, are more than skin deep, we noted: The project allowed Diamond to face loss, something he hadn't been able to do as a doctor.

3. Dazzling Designs of Alpine Ice Formations

Most people standing at the shore of Lake Constance in southern Germany look up to admire the snow-blanketed Swiss Alps across the water. But while skating along its frozen northwest edge three Januaries ago, aerial photographer Tom Hegen discovered an equally awesome sight looking down, noted Wired. “The structures in the ice fascinated me and the patterns changed all the time,” Hegen said. “I wondered how it might look from a greater perspective.” That perspective came from a homemade remote-controlled quadcopter.

4.  "Francesca Woodman: Portrait of a Reputation"

Francesca Woodman, whose brief though legendary photography career ended with her suicide at age 22, had a college friend who for decades was in possession of a box whose contents only he had seen. It included dozens of photographs and contact sheets, along with personal notes and letters, all made by Woodman in the late 1970s while she was a student at the Rhode Island School of Design. Eventually, we noted, the box came to the attention of Nora Burnett Abrams, a curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, and the result is a new exhibition and book.

5. How Harold Edgerton Saw the Unseen

Sixty-three years ago, on the evening of Jan. 10, 1957, Harold Edgerton set a 4,000-volt electronic flash of his own design to the right of a small, shallow pool of milk in his "Strobe Lab" at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Edgerton, often called the father of high-speed photography, then released a drop of milk from a funnel 8 inches above the pool, which reflected a bright red background. An image of the drop that Edgerton made would later be called one of the 100 most influential pictures ever taken. Now, we noted, his pioneering work has been collected in the book Harold Edgerton: Seeing the Unseen.


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