November 27, 2011

This stuff exists

Paul Nicklen is a white man who grew up in an Inuit community way up in Northern Canada near Greenland.  He takes pretty amazing pictures of polar bears, seals, penguins and the like for magazines like National Geographic.  He’s trying to put (animal) faces to the story people otherwise are getting kinda sick of — that polar ice is disappearing.

Watching him talk about the polar food chains, you can see his respect for the fragility of the world he grew up in.

I appreciate that.

It takes guts to hang out in the water for days on end with leopard seals.  He’s putting his money where his mouth is.  He’s funny, too.

Gotta restock my shelves.  See you later.

November 27, 2011

Christopher Jordan: “Midway”

Much of artist Christopher Jordan’s artwork deals with consumption, sustainability, and the environment. His series of photos from the Midway Atoll islands (in the Pacific Ocean, about 1000 miles north of Hawaii) took my breath away:

From “Midway: Message from the Gyre,” Christopher Jordan (2009-current)

Maybe you’ve heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the giant “landfill” in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  Well, the Midway Atoll is located near its apex and is a longtime wildlife refuge where albatrosses go to mate and feed their young.

This photo essay is like an environmental autopsy of the baby albatrosses that die after their parents try to forage the Pacific Ocean for food, and come back with only detritus to feed their young.   These haunting images won the prestigious French Prix Pictet  in March 2011.

Jordan and several collaborators are producing a documentary film about this phenomenon, too, called simply MIDWAY.  The filmmakers write:

The islands are literally covered with plastic garbage, illustrating on several levels the interconnectedness and interdependence of the systems on our finite planet [...]

And so it is here, sitting halfway between the consumers of North America and the consumers of Asia, that we get to stop and consider some of the unintentional consequences of growth, and the responsibilities that we have for our planet.


October 16, 2011

The oldest living things in the world

This chestnut tree in Sicily is approximately 3,000 years old, a mere baby.

Hello my friends,

You might think the oldest living things are Andy Rooney and Larry King, hehe, but no.

There’s a photographer named Rachel Sussman who has been photographing the world’s oldest living things. Many of them are trees, the branches and roots twisted and gnarled, like the tree above.  Some are bacteria, lichens, fungi.  One I very much like is a mysterious mossy-looking shrub in Chile.  There’s also an underground forest (!) near Pretoria, South Africa, estimated to be 13,000 years old, before humans had even developed agriculture.  There’s some underwater sea grass that will — como se dice –  blow your mind.  And what looks like a forest of white tree trunks, which is actually one single tree.  It’s worth looking at her TED Talk, because she talks about her photographs in greater detail how she reached some of her subjects.

They are like the great grandmothers at family gatherings who sit in the corner quietly, observing all the new life around them.

October 12, 2011

Building a Forest = Theater


One of the things that’s strange to me about filmmaking is how little contact I have with the world of theater and performance.  Because documentaries don’t really involve actors or scripts, I often miss out on works created in the world of theater.  So I was fascinated to find out about the New York City-based site-specific performance team PearlDamour, comprised of director Katie Pearl and playwright Lisa D’Amour.  All of their work is inspired by an awareness of landscape, and recently, they made an environmental theater piece with another artist, Shawn Hall, called HOW TO BUILD A FOREST. 

It was an immersive performance at The Kitchen, a longtime experimental and avant-garde hub now based in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, home to many galleries and exciting public space projects like The High Line.  In the piece, an entire forest is constructed onstage and taken down each day, made from recycled materials.  (The project’s carbon footprint is noted in a field guide you get from a ‘ranger’ at the door.) I ran into someone who went to check it out and stayed for hours. 

It strikes me as a beautiful and intriguing way to highlight the temporary quality of theater, which is created anew every night, but usually lasts for just a few weeks, and goes away.  It also makes me think about the impact my materials (celluloid, filmmaking equipment) have on the environment.

Apparently, Lisa D’Amour has a play called ‘Detroit’ coming to Broadway this fall.  It’s heartening to me that someone can make an environmental piece like this and then be doing a commercial play within six months. You’d think this was Europe, where artists tend to travel more freely between commercial, social, and experimental worlds.

October 12, 2011

Amazing young people win The Barron Prize 2011


The Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes is a national award that acknowledges the contributions of people 18 and under to make a better world.  The winners get some $ and also more publicity for their projects – they totally deserve it!  This year, 11 prizes were given out and the projects that these teenagers, tweens, and younger kids have created are awe-inspiring.  Some of the projects are environmental, some raise funds for different communities.  I’ll stick to the environmental ones and if you wanna learn more about all of them, just check out the Barron Prize website.

Those Girl Scouts I told you about before, Rhiannon and Madi, won for the campaign they started to get Girl Scouts to stop using palm oil in their cookies.  Speaking of which — around the time the Barron Prizes were announced, the GSUSA (the leadership of the Girl Scouts) promised to try to eliminate palm oil from all Girl Scout cookies by 2015.  Can you believe it?  They did it!  GSUSA said they’re also going to do things in the meantime to make up for using of palm oil, like buying Green Palm certificates, which reward palm oil plantations that do things right (i.e. not destroying orangutan habitats, duh) so the suppliers will do things right and not ruin rainforests.  Congrats you guys!  Eye of the tiger, or, um, orangutan!

The other environmental projects that got the Barron Prize this year: Rujul from New Jersey (age 16) raises money to build wells in India so villagers can have clean fresh water.  Jonny from Illinois (age 15) designed and developed a new kind of windshield for school buses that makes them more aerodynamic and fuel-efficient.   Eric and Christina from Colorado (ages 11 and 13) developed an education project to teach people about the dangers of the harmful gas radon.  Olivia from New York (age 11) drew bird pictures to raise money for the Audubon Society and other groups working on saving wildlife after the BP oil spill in the Gulf Coast. 

Pretty impressive, huh?  And this is what they’re doing in their spare time after their homework is finished.  It makes me wonder how people can watch TV at all.  I mean, I know that’s preachy, but srsly…  I really love FRINGE but at least I’m trying to do something with Earth Ambassadors.  Even if one out of every 20 people were doing something amazing, the world would be so different.

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    "The Next Forever" is a song from The Great Immensity. The footage was taken on Barro Colorado Island in the Panama Canal by videographer David Ford. Music and lyrics by Michael Friedman.
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