Stark Photographs by Benjamin Dimmitt Show the Ecological Damage of Saltwater Encroachment in Florida’s Wetlands
An Unflinching Look, a documentary photo series by Benjamin Dimmitt, is set in Florida and focuses its gaze on rising sea levels. Dimmitt has been photographing in the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge north of Tampa since 2004, after an initial visit more than 30 years ago.
“The dense palm hammocks and hardwood forests were festooned with ferns and orchids and the fresh water creeks were a clear azure,” Dimmitt tells Colossal. But, around 2011, saltwater began leaching into the creeks, due to rising sea levels and the state’s environmental decision-makers. Florida’s water commissioners allowed more fresh water to be drawn into large-scale inland developments and agricultural interests, leaving less for wetlands in the aquifers that feed these essential ecosystems.
“What had been verdant, semi-tropical forest is now mostly an open plain of grasses relieved by palms and dying hardwood trees,” Dimmitt explains. “In 2014, I began to photograph in the salt-damaged sawgrass savannas and spring creeks there as a way of reckoning with the ecosystem loss and of understanding what has become of my native Florida. I have narrowed my focus to a small, remote area that I know and love. My intention in bearing witness to this loss has been to portray the ruined landscape with respect, nuance and beauty.”
In order to create each photograph, Dimmitt canoes into the wetlands, stepping on to land to set up his tripod when possible, or shooting from his canoe if the water is too deep or land too soft. The selenium-toned gelatin silver prints are created with a medium format camera. Dimmitt grew up in a creative household, and his mother was an abstract painter. She gave the photographer his own camera at age 16, and her aesthetic continues to inform Dimmitt’s own practice to this day.
Because Dimmitt has been working in this region for so long, he is able to show the dramatic changes in the landscape over time, as salt-intolerant vegetation has been wiped out by the encroaching ocean water, as documented in the diptychs shown here. The artist tells Colossal that he has a very direct approach to photography, shooting from his eye and his heart. He sought to channel “a hammer in a velvet glove,” creating compelling images that would draw viewers into the larger issues at stake. As part of his artistic practice, Dimmitt also researched saltwater intrusion and spoke with scientists, activists, state water management officials, and locals to gain a full picture of the situation. For the photographer, the experience of documenting the changes in Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge “has been painful and cathartic for me, evoking grief, anger and feelings of loss and mortality.”
An Unflinching Look is part of a current exhibition, “This is Climate Change,” now on view at Southeast Museum of Photography through October 26, 2019. Explore more of the photographer’s portfolio on his website and Instagram. You can also learn more about the buyouts that state governments in regions impacted by climate change are offering people to leave their homes in an incisive article on Bloomberg, and explore “ghost forests” all along the Eastern seaboard in the New York Times.
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A Swedish Art Collective Handcrafts 17,000 Unique Sculptures Signifying Refugee Youth at Risk of Deportation
Seventeen thousand unique sculptures are displayed in a new installation by Swedish artist collective Skaparkollektivet Forma. The group sought to draw attention to the individuality of 17,000 Afghan refugee youth whom the Swedish government plans to deport. The unaccompanied minors came to Sweden in 2015, totaling 23,500 in that year, and were fully integrated into their adoptive communities. However, the government seems to have shifted gears and has reversed its opinions on a majority of the young people.
Working with 1,500 volunteers, Skaparkollektivet Forma created petite sculptural works of art to represent each individual impacted by the planned governmental uprooting. The works are glued to 34 frames in groups of 500, which allows the installation to be easily transported and installed in different configurations.
Since the collective started working on this project, attention has been drawn to the issue, and some of the youth have been allowed to stay, but apparently the majority of the planned deportations are still set to happen. “In the debate on migration, living human beings tend to be transformed into anonymous volumes,” said Skaparkollektivet Forma told dezeen. “But we wanted to understand what this five-figure number actually represented. The installation makes the number 17,000 visible and above all shows that behind every number there is a person,” they explained. “Behind each figure there is a personality, a story, a work of art.”
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REWILD: A Short Film by Splash and Burn and ESCIF Chronicles Rainforest Restoration Efforts in Sumatra
To draw attention to the ecological devastation wrought by palm oil farming in Southeast Asia, the Splash and Burn project (previously) creates and documents large and small-scale art activations. The initiative’s most recent endeavor, titled REWILD and executed with Spanish artist ESCIF, involved carving a rewind symbol into a palm oil plantation in Sumatra, Indonesia, and creating a short film documenting the effort. ESCIF explains, “the idea of going back, of rewinding, is an invitation to reconnect with ourselves; to recover awareness and respect for the earth, which is the ecosystem of which we are a part.”
The land art intervention took place on an acquired plantation within a new forest restoration site made possible by the Sumatran Orangutan Society. After clearing the palms, diverse vegetation has been re-planted. In a release about the project, Splash and Burn explains that the restoration site is located on the borders of the Leuser Ecosystem, one of the most biodiverse places on earth. Sumatra’s forests—and the wildlife populations within—have shrunk by 40% in the past two decades, replaced by palm oil, paper pulp, and rubber plantations. Though not commonly known in the U.S. as a cooking oil, palm oil is the most widely consumed oil on the planet, found in everything from chocolate and instant noodles to lipstick and laundry detergent.
You can watch the trailer of REWILD below. It features an abstract soundscape by Indonesian composer Nursalim Yadi Anugerah. If you are interested in contributing, head to moretrees.info, and follow Splash and Burn (comprised of Ernest Zacharevic and Charlotte Pyatt) on Instagram.
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Put Words into Action with ‘Gerry’, a New Font Created From the Silhouettes of Gerrymandered Electoral Districts
Apologies to anyone who shares the name, but two designers in Chicago are taking on electoral gerrymandering in a new font called Gerry. The font, created by Ben Doessel and James Lee, is composed of 26 districts whose absurd boundaries resemble alphabet letters much more than they resemble logical, cohesive population groupings. Alabama’s pronged 1st District bears a striking resemblance to the letter K, while New York’s 8th District looks like an M with its tall legs connected by a curved middle.
“Gerry” is available for download on a dedicated website, UglyGerry.com, which also includes a Twitter integration allowing visitors to thank their Representatives for their contributions to the font. If you’re interested in learning more about Gerrymandering, we recommend this John Oliver segment. (via Hyperallergic)
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Over the past two and a half years, nearly 4,000 volunteers have converged on the US/Mexico border to assist artist Enrique Chiu with painting a mural. Chiu began the project on Election Day in 2016, and once his collaborative project is complete, the “Mural of Brotherhood” will span a mile of Mexico’s border frontage in Tijuana. Shorter segments will also be created in other regions to connect the project to the southern edge of the border. The wide range of styles, including written phrases and more illustrative narratives reflects the diversity of those who have worked alonside Chiu to complete the expansive mural.
Chiu was born in Mexico and has spent 14 years living in the U.S., both as a child and as an adult. However, he re-rooted himself in Tijuana’s vibrant arts scene ten years ago. In an interview with Hyperallergic Chiu explained, “the murals spread messages of peace to people crossing the border by car or on foot,” and are “intended to be a final glimpse of hope for migrants risking danger as they cross northward.”
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Splash and Burn: An Artist-Led Initiative Raising Awareness About the Negative Effects of Palm Oil Production in South Asia
Indonesia is the world’s largest exporter of palm oil, the harvesting of which has been shown to have extremely adverse effects on wildlife and natural resources, including deforestation, fires, and the displacement of people and animals. Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic (previously) witnessed this devastation during his time spent photographing and traveling throughout the country, and decided to found the initiative Splash and Burn to spread public awareness about the resource’s inhumane production.
“A state of global environmental crisis is defining our generation,” Zacharevic tells Colossal. “As consumers, we are so disconnected from the source of our commodities that we do not recognize the impact of our daily choices. This project is an effort to bridge that gap.”
The organization’s name comes from slash-and-burn, the cheap practice of burning land to clear the way for new plantations, a method that releases toxic smoke, and has been linked to more than 500,000 respiratory infections. For two years Zacharevic researched these issues effecting Indonesia’s population, meeting with NGOs, locals, and wildlife sites to educate himself on the organizations fighting against the practices and attempting to heal from their destruction.
After researching the area and its local organizations, like the Orangutan Information Centre, the Lithuanian artist invited several fellow creatives to respond to the native landscape and the palm oil crisis through art installations. Since February, international artists have created murals, sculptures, and other works throughout Sumatra. Pieces include an orangutan mural painted by VHILS, Isaac Cordal’s miniature hazmat suit installation, and Zacharevic’s plantation intervention in which he inserted the message SOS into the landscape’s trees.
“I wanted to communicate the magnitude of the problem to a wider audience, as well as provide creative outlook, hope, and inspiration to local communities and conservationists,” says Zacharevic in a press release about the work. “From the ground, you would not suspect anything more than just another palm oil plantation, the aerial view however reveals an SOS distress signal. ‘Save our Souls’ is a message communicated to those at a distance, a reminder of the connectedness we share with nature. As more of the forests are lost, we lose a little bit of ourselves in the process.”
So far Splash and Burn has worked with Anders Gjennestad aka Strøk, Axel Void, Bibichun, Gabriel Pitcher, Isaac Cordal, Mark Jenkins, and Pixel Pancho. The ongoing initiative is curated by Zacharevic and coordinated by Charlotte Pyatt. To follow upcoming installations or support the project’s efforts visit the Sumatran Orangutan Society website or Splash and Burn’s Instagram.
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Banksy’s year-old project in Bethlehem, The Walled Off Hotel (previously), has just released a new set of souvenirs exclusively available in the hotel shop. The series of works, which are each hand painted by local artists, depict the West Bank barrier in a crumbling state. A hooded figure is featured beside the wall in several of the works—either contributing a fresh piece of graffiti or physically breaking through the wall with mallet in hand. Banksy views these works as anticipatory objects, pieces that might accurately depict the wall’s end.
The hotel also released a new album during last week’s Palestine Music Expo, featuring international musicians such as Brian Eno, The Black Madonna, Trio Joubran, Roisin Murphy, and Akram Abdulfattah. The work was produced by Block9 during a “Creative Retreat” at the hotel this past February, and includes seven collaborative songs inspired by Palestine’s history. The Walled Off Hotel Creative Retreat Album is now available for free on Soundcloud.
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