‘Landscapes Need a Voice’: GlacierHub Speaks With Photographer Fiona Bunn

Fiona Bunn is a professional alpine photographer whose work has been displayed in London, Milan, and Zermatt. An avid hiker and climber, Bunn spoke with GlacierHub writer Elza Bouhassira about the inspiration for her most recent exhibition in Guildford, England and her ideas about the role of a photographer in a world increasingly shaped by climate change.

GlacierHub: Can you talk a bit about your exhibition? How does it build on your past work?

Bunn: Going back in time, what motivated me originally was that I’ve always spent a lot of time in the Alps, even as a child I always visited them. Around seven years ago I had quite a shocking experience when I was in the Alps; I took some photographs and could see a profound difference in the glaciers. I’m not sure why I suddenly saw that. Perhaps it was because I had been visiting at different times of the year.

After my shock seven years ago, I felt quite motivated to start developing a conversation. Initially a lot of my work was in black and white. It was quite stark. But as I engaged more with people, I came to realize that photography is as much a journey for me as it is for the people who are looking at it. 

The first exhibitions I did were quite stark, they were in more artistic exhibition spaces. I was in the Milan Expo, and then I did a couple in London. An exhibition I did in the summer was in a very commercial environment. It was in Bond Street in London. The exhibition I’m doing now is in a more spiritual environment. It’s actually in a church. It’s part of a heritage weekend that they’re doing, and the weekend is also part of the liturgical season of creation, which is all about the web of life, about the interconnectedness of nature, and the impacts of climate change. For me it’s a big exhibition, to take over a city center church and to have this opportunity, really, it’s great.

GlacierHub: Can you talk about the upcoming exhibit?

Bunn: It’s a church in Guilford. It’s a 10th-century church. It’s a bit of an artist’s dream because it’s in a state of disrepair at the moment since they’re doing a lot of building work on it. The structure itself is undergoing a lot of change so the pictures of mountains are almost replacing the windows of the church—the windows are covered up due to the construction. People are seeing nature come into their environment where stained glass would usually be, which is really nice. There are 15 images, each about 1.5 meters by half a meter. It’s a beautiful space. And educationally it’s great too because they’ve got lots of children helping, the local Brownies Guides are doing a pop-up cafe. So there’s going to be a lot of young people there and it’s just a great opportunity to engage with a different audience.

Exhibition visitors peer at Fiona Bunn’s alpine images. (Source: Fiona Bunn)

GlacierHub: How do you decide where to shoot? 

Bunn: I like to go back to the same set of places because I’m trying to record change. I try to build relationships with people because I want to focus more on education going forward. Since I’m also a climber, I tend to choose places that are very high up.

And image of the Matterhorn, the most iconic summit in the Alps.
(Source: Fiona Bunn)

GlacierHub: Do you use any filters or post-processing as part of your creative process? 

Bunn: I don’t use any filters and, in post production, just a little bit of cropping. I’ve got quite a basic camera to be quite frank. I tend not to use polarizing filters. I’m a bit of a nightmare for other photographers because if I can climb it, and I can just sit here and I can photograph it, then I’m happy and I’ll do that. 

GlacierHub: Why do you shoot landscapes? 

Bunn: The landscape of the Alps is so beautiful. People ask why I go back to the same places; it’s because every time I go it’s different, the sky’s different, the sunsets, the experiences, the people I meet. I always think of people like John Muir who just basically hung out in Yellowstone National Park most of his life. There is something in that because it’s about getting to know people, and the community and building links that will be part of my artistic process of recording what I’m seeing and experiences I’m having. Personally, I try and capture exactly what I see with a little bit of cropping. What you see is what you get with me.

GlacierHub: Most of your images focus on landscapes and mountains. Is it a deliberate choice to omit animals and humans?

Bunn: I feel that landscapes need a voice at the moment. I do photograph quite a bit of wildlife, but I don’t always put those into my exhibitions. I think there’s probably quite a lot of work that can be done around tracking the effects of what’s happening on wildlife. 

GlacierHub: What do you think the role of a photographer is in a world confronted by climate change?

Bunn: I think photography opens a door to conversation. It’s a tool for communicating experience. I think artists have a profound responsibility. 

I think different artists have different signatures in their work. Some people call them motifs. One thing that I think all artists who have any interest in climate change can say is that the subject profoundly touches you to the extent that you make it the central pivot for your work. What I’ve seen has impacted me to the extent that it has become part of the signature in my work. It’s become very important to me. 

I feel the artistic community has a real role to play in that we have different voices, and together we can reach people. I sometimes worry the message isn’t clear, that there is still a lot of confusion about the message. I think we’re still fumbling our way through this, trying to figure out what are we trying to say. 

Dent d’Herens, over 4,000 meters in elevation, lies in the Pennine Alps between Switzerland and Italy and is host to retreating glaciers.
(Source: Fiona Bunn)

GlacierHub: Do you think beautiful pictures make people complacent rather than provoking them into action?

A: I think we need a combination of both, which is why I think that when different artists work together it’s quite powerful. I’ve always thought that a collective approach is really important. I would say that the more artists who have different approaches, but who are essentially working toward the same goal, the better.

Also, if you show a beautiful picture, you can put powerful words along with it. It’s shocking and it makes me extraordinarily angry to see what we’re doing to the environment. But I know I am not going to reach people with only very stark images. I need to show people the beauty of mountains and that they will not exist the way they do now in the future. Sometimes I wonder whether my work will end up being purely a historical document for people to reflect on in thirty years once the ice is no longer here. If that’s what I end up doing, then I’m prepared to do that. I want to start documenting the people who live there too, because I think that’s important too. John Muir and Ansel Adams, artists I love and respect, they grabbed people’s attention because they cared enough about a place to just sit there and take photo after photo of it. I think things have changed now and I might just be creating a historical document. We can tell people they’re destroying the environment, but they know it. 

Environmentalism needs lots of artists. It needs a lot of us because one thing I have understood is that at first I saw my work as just me loving mountains and wanting to share them with people and warn them that these environments are not going to be like this much longer. I think what I’ve understood is that people love to go and look at art, to listen to poetry, to read stories. And I think this is the time for people who are artists to play on that interest. I think artists have a really important role to play in the process of addressing climate change, whatever their style within it.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

You can find Fiona Bunn’s photography on her website and on Instagram.

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Photo Friday: The Alpine Photographer

Fiona Bunn, a British and Swiss Alpine landscape photographer, is committed to creating awareness of human impacts on glacier landscapes.

“My alpine photography highlights both the ageless grandeur of the Alps, yet also its innate vulnerability to humankind’s impact,” says Fiona on her work.

Her photographs are inspired by her childhood visits and explorations of Swiss mountains and interest in arts and graphic design.

The glaciers I visited as a child are now rapidly shrinking. I actually remember the physical shock of seeing the degradation in the size of the Grenz Glacier when I returned to the Valais region of Switzerland some years after my visits as a child. There is an active debate surrounding this; my main hope is that featuring the beautiful Alps and glaciers through my photography will also draw our attention to those who live there. These alpine communities livelihoods depends upon the glaciers which created these beautiful landscapes. Such extreme melt is an indicator of something drastically changing in our climate. It has gone beyond reversal in my opinion, but we can at least seek to preserve what remains as much as possible,” says Fiona Bunn.

Fiona’s photographs have been exhibited at the Menier Gallery and the Brick Lane Gallery, in London, as part of the Milan Expo, and also in the Alpine Museum in Zermatt.

For more of her work, visit her website www.fiphotos.org, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter [@alpineclick]
and Instagram [@fi_bee24].  

Fiona has also recently released her 2018 calendar, which is available to GlacierHub readers at a 20 percent discount using the code GlacierHub18

30 x 20 cms ~ £12.79 ~ A saving of £3.20 (usual price £15.99) 

http://www.fiphotos.org/product/glacier-hub-alpine-calendar-2018/

20 x 20 cms ~ £10.41 ~ A saving of £2.58 (usual price £12.99) 

http://www.fiphotos.org/product/glacier-hub-calendar-2018-compact/

Prices include postage and packing for the UK and worldwide.

View of the Grenz Glacier from Breithorn Summit (4164 m) (Source: Fiona Bunn).

 

View of Breithorn summit (4164 m) of the Pennine Alps (Source: Fiona Bunn)

 

Pollux mountain (4092 m) on the Pennine Alps (Source: Fiona Bunn)

 

Dawn on the 4000 m Alpine peaks (Source: Fiona Bunn).

 

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Artist Jodi Patterson and the ‘Emergency of Now’

As a painter, Jodi Patterson spent decades inside a studio. Now, as a landscape photographer, she uses photography as a platform for activism. Glaciers and icebergs, both susceptible to climate change, are a frequent subject of hers. She also enjoys photographing landscapes like rivers with waterfalls and mountain ranges.

Since 1989, Patterson has been exhibiting her art across the globe, including displays at such sites as the Manhattan Cultural Center, the Tate Modern in London, Ph21 gallery in Budapest, and COP21 at La Maison Bleu in Paris. She has been published in the International Journal of Art in Education and the Visual Arts Research Journal and serves as co-editor of  ARTIZEIN: Arts and Teaching Journal.

Patterson has extensive travel experience, which informs her deep appreciation of nature, making it the subject of many of her photographs. Currently she works as an assistant professor and coordinator of Eastern Washington University’s art program.

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Iceland (Image with permission from: Jodi Patterson)

 

GlacierHub spoke with Patterson by email.

 

GlacierHub: What first piqued your interest in photographing glaciers? And how does photographing glaciers differ from photographing other landscapes?

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Iceland (Image with permission from: Jodi Patterson)

Jodi Patterson: Access is key. It wasn’t until I moved out west that I became acquainted with the beauty of a glacier first-hand. Now that I live in Washington I can easily get in a car and tromp a glacier, or hop a short airplane ride to them. Admittedly, at first it was about the adventure – the challenge and nuance of traversing a glacier. But as I met people who live and work around them, they show me how far the glaciers move, and teach me how much their lives (and the lives of plants and animals) are affected by the receding of the ice. I then began using my ability to voice collective worries via my art and audience.

All landforms have an essence. Glaciers have a dynamic balance of silence, sound and surprise – and offer a compelling and unique visual form to explore. The glory and grace of both their power and vulnerability is exactly the type of magnificence artists/people rarely get to experience first hand. Glaciers differ from landscapes due to their rarity of their form and the difficulty of walking to and on them.

 

 

Alaska (Image with permission from: Jodi Patterson)

GH: Many of your glacier images have surprisingly intense blues. Is this hard to capture?

I stare at my photographs and marvel at the color and patterns of the glaciers. I never would or could have thought to paint the world with the colors that naturally emerge on, in and around glaciers. The blues in the crevasses of a glacier are formed through thousands of years of compression. There is simply nothing else in the world that combines light, water and mineral in a way that produces the stunning ice blues that creep up to the light. As you can tell, my camera loves this anomaly.

 

 

GH: Many of your glacier images show details of glaciers, rather than long views of entire mountains. Why is this?

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Mendenhall Glacier, Alaska (Image with permission from: Jodi Patterson)

I suppose I take closer views of glaciers because I am closer – I am there. I am falling, slipping and tromping on the ice. I realize few people get to experience them as closely as I do – so I show it as I see it.

Though I appreciate the compliment and attention to my work, I really have no hand in the base splendor of what the photographs reveal! As a photographer, I choose to use my art as a witness and advocate of the land and climate. I feel blessed to be able to share our big, amazing world with others via my photos.

 

GH: Could you talk a bit about the difference between the two mediums you work with, paint and photography?

JP: I mentioned earlier that I spent most of my artistic life learning how to manipulate color through paint. Paint is my first love, but the skills of a painter (composition, form, color, etc.) can transfer to the photographer both pre and post-shot. Though skill transference occurs, I could write an entire paper comparing and contrasting the praxis of painting vs. photography!    Perhaps the biggest shift (besides working in a studio vs. in nature) is that, as a photographer, I can only get “morning” if I am awake and outside in the morning. A painter can paint morning any time of a day he/she pleases.

More to your point, I call myself an interdisciplinary artist. This means I allow the message to dictate the medium not the other way around. As of now, photography best evidences my message of climate change and provides a fairly literal defense of it, which allows the message to not get lost in the abstraction of another art form. So far, my audience watches with interest.

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Mendenhall Glacier, Alaska (Image with permission from: Jodi Patterson)

GH: You write: “As an emerging landscape photographer, I am quickly learning the emergency-of-now; how once-in-a-lifetime moments are immediately lost if not acted upon.” Could you expand on this?

Alaska (Image with permission from: Jodi Patterson)

JP: The “emergency-of-now” is a core philosophy that relates to my personal, aesthetic and political views of life.

Personally, it reminds me to pay attention to what is important about a day and/or a life. You know – the “don’t sweat the small stuff” sort of thing.

Aesthetically, it prompts me to seek, notice and respond to “life” – and not take it for granted. So often people believe the things they witness, love or know will be always be accessible to us, but life dictates otherwise. A simple example occurred the other day when I was driving down the highway. In the corner of my eye, I noticed a waterfall flowing into a still pond, thus reflecting itself in the water and I thought there might be a photo there. It would have been easier to get that photo on my return, but I knew if I didn’t find a place to pull over and run to the waterfall immediately, the water may soon begin to ripple, the light would change and the photo might not have the value it had at that moment. So I found a place to pull over and I ran about a ¼ mile back to get the image, and I was happy with it.

And lastly, politically, the climate and the land pulsate with an urgent cry for attention. The glaciers are receding, the earth is cracking and water is becoming a commodity. The time to act in defense of the climate and the land is now and photographs can help divulge this fact and inspire others to care.

 

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