Albedo Zone (2008)
Albedo Zone addresses questions of climate change through a series of black and white photographs that deal with the “Albedo effect”. The series consists of very light images of ice, and very dark images of water, making apparent the transformation of ice from an element that cools the planet into one that warms it. To create these photographs I used a large format camera and the “Zone System”, a photographic technique invented and refined by the mid-century American photographer Ansel Adams. This work was made in Alaska, a part of the world where global warming and thawing are at their extreme. Alaska, as well as many Arctic regions and Antarctica contain massive volumes of water in the form of glaciers and sea ice. As the glaciers continue to melt, the rising sea levels may spell disaster for half of the world’s population that lives near the coast.
Albedo is a measurement of light that is reflected by earth’s surface. Each type of earth surface reflects and retains light and heat in a different way. Ice and snow are the most reflective surfaces; they return the majority of sunlight that reaches them back into the atmosphere, thus preventing the earth from warming. Water, on the other hand, is one of the least reflective surfaces, retaining most of the light that reaches it, thus warming the earth. As the ice sheets, glaciers and sea ice throughout the world melt and become water, these areas transform from being the most reflective to the least reflective surfaces. This causes a feedback that creates further thawing, warming, rising water levels and desalinization, which is, in part, responsible for the climate disaster we face today. It is this transformation of ice into water that Albedo Zone photographs address.
Photography (drawing with light), like the climate, is wholly dependent on the reflectivity of surfaces. The objects that reflect the most light appear white and the objects that reflect the least light appear dark or black. The person most responsible for transforming this phenomenon into a technical/theoretical system is Ansel Adams. Dividing the spectrum of reflectivity into eight to ten zones, Adams created a pedagogical method he termed the Zone System. He used this technical approach to create many iconic black and white images that, in their impeccable tonal range, define his transcendentalist and romantic awe of nature and its creations.
While I share Adams’ awe of nature, I also realize that Earth’s environment is being destroyed at an ever-accelerating pace. Addiction to natural resources, growing dependence on arable land, and our incessant need and desire for more of everything, everywhere, at all times, has greatly contributed to the current environmental crisis. We live at a time the writer Bill McKibben has described as “The End of Nature”, a world that, since Ansel Adams, has endured several decades of extreme abuse. It is highly problematic to treat nature as an omnipotent force in relation to which humans are insignificant – a philosophy that Adams embraced. We humans, much to our detriment, have finally become the masters of nature, not only affecting it locally, but also changing nature’s very core, the atmosphere. I think it is imperative to represent nature as the endangered space that it is, while continuing to be aware of the power and beauty it still possesses.