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MELTING TROPICS

Melting Tropics

—PINHOLE PHOTOGRAPHS OF A VANISHING COUNTRY

“None of us, here or anywhere, is immune from the forces of nature”

In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the Republic of Kiribati is vanishing at an unstoppable pace, with the island nation threatened to be soon swallowed up by the ocean.

Situated at an average altitude of merely one meter above sea level, the Republic of Kiribati will be completely underwater by the end of the century.

From the massive floods caused by hurricanes to ongoing droughts, the world is witnessing unprecedented climate change-related disasters. Despite these dramatic incidents, the countries affected by such tragic events still have a nation, at least for now.

In an unfair twist of fate, the discreet, low-lying and far-flung island nation of Kiribati will lose its entire territory and soon find itself stateless.

Since January 2014, I have been travelling to these islands to witness the grave ecological threat they face, which stands in stark contrast to their idyllic landscapes.

 

“The Republic of Kiribati is located deep in the heart of the Pacific Ocean. We are a big island state roughly the size of the United States, but we are so far away, so isolated geographically that most people don’t even know where we are, and therefore cannot bring themselves to care about our situation. But in spite of our remoteness, we now find ourselves wrestling with the pressing consequences of climate change.

The same ocean that keeps us at a distance from the tribulations of the world is now slowly eating up our land, and we’re now faced with the indisputable reality that our distinct culture and traditions could soon be washed away for good.

The images of my vanishing country raise a fundamental question that goes far beyond the clear-cut climate change debate: when the time comes that we have no choice but to migrate, what will happen to the deep spiritual connection to the land that our people have nurtured over time? Once that very land is forever destroyed, where will the spirits and our collective soul go?

The loss of a profound connection that links people to their land is the national tragedy Kiribati has now been left to reckon with. And the terrifying takeaway about this threat is that no one here or anywhere else is immune to the forces of nature.”

—Anote Tong, President of the Republic of Kiribati

The consequences of a hurricane or a drought may be easy to photograph, but how can one show the slow erosion of the land of Kiribati? It’s difficult to bear witness to the insidious, ineluctable process of a vanishing territory. Photography is more often than not an immediate approach to capture light in a fraction of an instant.

To overcome the physical limitations of this immediacy, I used a pinhole camera that allowed me to work with long exposures and produce photographic objects in motion, echoing a landscape that is fading away before our very eyes. For the duration of one long exposure, the landscape transforms and the photographic object becomes a metaphor for its disappearance.

Furthermore, the pinhole images yield unplanned results, which call into question a paradigm that asserts technology’s infallibility in finding sustainable solutions to the climate crisis. In a contemporary context wherein science and technology appear to control everything, these images remind us of the fragility of our relationship to nature and the ubiquity of technological tools that now shape our daily lives.

“When the time comes that we have no choice but to migrate, what will happen to the deep spiritual connection to the land that our people have nurtured over time? Once that very land is forever destroyed, where will the spirits and our collective soul go?”

Additional information

All the photographs have been shot in the Kiribati Islands between 2014 and 2016 on a 6X14 zero image pinhole camera using 120 colour negative film and scanned on a Heidelberg drum scanner.
Music © Christine Ott, “Disaster” (mixed with field recordings from Kiribati)

Related projects:
Melting Tropics — Kiribati and the Marshall Islands on the front line of global climate change
Melting Tropics – Interactive installation | Dedicated website Melting Tropics
Anote’s Ark – Movie

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