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Matinee: 'Coal + Ice' Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

19 January 2019

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 185th in our series of Saturday matinees today: Coal + Ice.

This three-minute piece by Sasha Schell presents an overview of an intriguing photographic exhibition held at Fort Mason's Festival Pavilion in San Francisco last September.

As the liner notes put it:

Coal + Ice is a documentary photography and video exhibition about climate change that brings together the work of over 40 photographers from around the world to visually narrate the consequences triggered by the continued use of fossil fuels. The exhibition is co-curated by Magnum photographer Susan Meiselas and renowned Dutch exhibition designer Jeroen de Vries.

Orville Schell, executive producer of the event (and former dean of the University of California at Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism), wrote an introductory essay for the exhibition in which he discussed "the increasing vulnerability of pristine Himalayan glaciers and the catastrophic effects of coal use across ecosystems."

In that piece, he wrote:

Surely it is one of the great ironies of our age that even in the midst of the information technology revolution, which daily inundates us with vast quantities of information that are supposed to inform and liberate us, we are still unable to synthesize it so as to galvanize ourselves for action.

The list of photographers represented includes some familiar names including Bernd and Hilla Becher, Robert Capa, Bruce Davidson and W. Eugene Smith.

But what struck us about this video is the exhibition itself.

Taking a cue from the title of the exhibition, huge photographic banners hanging from the high ceiling greet visitors with color images of the Himalayas. On the other side of those banners are duotones of coal miners.

Meiselas explains that the exhibition lets you experience what we know intellectually about climate change. In the Coal section of the exhibit, for example, cubicles invite you to enter more intimate spaces to see slide shows of photographs and videos that connect the man who does the heroic labor and the scarred landscapes of what remains.

In the middle space you see what coal and ice have to do with each other. The continued use of fossil fuels, producer Leah Thompson spells it out, is affecting our environment.

There's a final section of the exhibition called the Solutions section so you don't leave the exhibit feeling doomed, even as you pass under the portraits of those coal miners on the banners overhead.

The exhibition gives you a historical perspective that also shows you where things stand. But even more, it is an event in itself, giving you the experience of seeing the glaciers and the reality of a coal miner's life and the effect of fossil fuels on our environment.

It isn't an argument. It's evidence.

While the exhibition closed in September, the video brings it back to life. We only wish it were a permanent installation.

Photography, after all, is the witness of our time. Nothing escapes its gaze. Nothing eradicates its memory. Nothing rebuts its evidence.

We ignore it at our peril.


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