Subscribe to Blog via Email
It’s up to you. That message rings loud and clear in “Global Warning”, the photography show guest curated by Glenn Ruga, at 555 Gallery in South Boston through October 4, 2014. Contradictions abound in an exhibit featuring Garth Lenz’s panoramic color aerials of the Alberta Tar Sands in Canada and Lisa Wiltse’s gritty journalistic images of slum kids scraping together charcoal in Manila, the Philippines.
First of all, the sweeping scale and vibrant colors of Garth Lenz’s photographs are breathtaking. Many are undeniably gorgeous, the others just awe-inspiring. In a project he calls “The True Cost of Oil”, shouldn’t we feel more disgusted? Lenz thinks not. He was drawn to the Canadian boreal forest ecosystem, the world’s greatest terrestrial storehouse of carbon, by its astonishing, pristine beauty.
First and foremost a photographer after great images, Lenz took regular aerial forays over the boreal forest of his native Canada, the largest and most intact of its kind left on Earth. What he found in the middle of this ecosystem was the northern Alberta Tar Sands, the world’s third largest oil reserves. It was pure destiny.
An enterprise of epic proportions, the Tar Sands are the world’s largest energy project, wreaking destruction on the surrounding forests to produce oil in a process that is grievously inefficient. Paradoxically, vast mines, tailings ponds filled with toxic waste, and the fires and fumes of oil production create their own weather systems, leading to strangely lovely and otherworldly light conditions.
Amazingly, the Alberta Tar Sands tailings ponds are so enormous that they can be seen from space. So it is sadly ironic that Lenz’s aerial photographs of sky reflected in the toxic and oily waste water of these ponds combine to produce some dramatically beautiful abstract images.
Lisa Wiltse’s series “The Charcoal Kids of Ulingan” takes us from Canada to the Philippines, from eyes in the skies to feet in the soot. Her photojournalistic narrative follows young urban slum dwellers trying to survive by making charcoal from collected bits of wood. Wiltse’s work illustrates the other extreme of carbon production, small-scale and personal.
The continuously burning coal produces an atmosphere of toxic fumes, creating similarly photogenic lighting conditions to those Lenz experienced in the skies over the Alberta Tar Sands. In affectingly symbolic images, Wiltse contrasts the supple shapes of the children’s perfect young bodies against the sharp elements of their harsh environment. This dystopia is no place for such innocents.
From Canada to Asia, from a vast corporate enterprise to personal manufacturing from scraps, “Global Warning” delivers some appalling truths and illustrates the scope of the consequences we face if we fail to address our dependence on fossil fuels. The triumph of this show is that rather than shocking the viewer into submission, Lenz and Wiltse draw you in with photographs that are visually and emotionally compelling.
And then, it’s up to you.
For more information, directions and hours, go to: http://www.555gallery.com/
For more work by Garth Lenz, go to: http://www.garthlenz.com/
For more about Lisa Wiltse, go to: http://www.lisawiltse.com/
For information on Glenn Ruga, go to: http://www.socialdocumentary.net/photographer/glennruga
Feature image: “Rouge Mountains, Mackenzie Valley, Northwest Territories, 2005” archival pigment print bonded to aluminum by Garth Lenz (courtesy of the artist and 555 Gallery, Boston)