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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Ilex Studio’s avocado and acorn vases give new trees a head start while adding some greenery to your interior space. Riffing on the age-old technique of using crossed toothpicks or grilling skewers to balance sprouting plants over water, the uniquely shaped glass vessels are comprised of a large, flat-bottomed bulb topped with a smaller open-topped “cup”. The top holds the seed while keeping it dry, and the neck and water-filled base below allow roots to expand. Once the young tree has sufficiently sprouted and is ready to be planted in soil, the Ilex vase can help another one take root. The vases are available on Ilex’s website. (via Design Milk)
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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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Beyoncé, Bruce Springsteen, Taylor Swift: all typical headliners for stadium attractions. Less common? 300 trees. In Klaus Littman’s public art installation, “FOR FOREST – The Unending Attraction of Nature”, at Wörthersee Stadium in Klagenfurt, Austria, an arboreal group takes center stage. The Swiss curator worked with landscape architect Enzo Enea to arrange the temporary forest, which is comprised of a range of trees typical in the woods of central Europe.
Littmann was inspired by artist Max Peintner’s work, circa 1970, titled “The Unending Attraction of Nature” (some translations use unbroken instead of unending), which depicts a dystopian future where a group of trees is penned in like zoo animals, as a rare artifact and spectacle. The curator first saw Peintner’s drawing more than 30 years, ago and the concept of bringing it to life remained with Littmann over the past three decades.
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In this calming video by Red Side, a variety of tree species are compared side-by-side. The animation spans different common and more unique tree types, starting with 3-inch Keshitsubo bonsai tree and moving all the way to a towering Sequoia sempervirens. In addition to the subtly billowing trees, the video also contains some human-made landmarks that help to add context, like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, a rocket, and the Statue of Liberty. You can see more of Red Side’s animations, like this animal population video or tornado comparison, on Youtube. (via The Morning News)
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The places where organic growth and human-made structure meet draws the eye of Los Angeles-based photographer Sinziana Velicescu. In her series A Tree Grows In…, Velicescu documents trees and shrubs growing alongside, or in spite of, pastel-hued buildings and fences in the Los Angeles area. Some, like the door-flanking cypresses above, dwarf the built landscape. In others, tightly trimmed topiaries mirror the industrial shapes of rooftop HVAC systems.
“Part of my process is walking or driving around neighborhoods in and around the greater Los Angeles area and coming across these scenes spontaneously,” Velicescu shares with Colossal. “The trees I seek out are ones that have a personality, so much so that they could almost replace human subjects. I’m drawn mostly to the trees that feel trapped by the urban landscape in which they find themselves or are trying to overcome their surroundings in some way.”
The photographer is currently working on Fabricating Desert, a project that explores the fabricated relationship between landscape and architecture in the desert Southwest. You can see more of Velicescu’s photographs on Instagram and Tumblr, and find prints of her images on Uprise Art. (via Ignant)
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Situated within the Royal Fort Gardens at The University of Bristol, British designer Katie Paterson and architects Zeller & Moye collaborated on Hollow, a wooden installation that illustrates the diversity of tree species found across the globe. From the outside the sculptural work appears as a series of rectangles made from a similar, light colored sample of wood, yet when one enters the modular elements break into wooden blocks of all shapes, sizes, and hues. Clustered rectangular structures emerge from the ceiling and floor of the cave-like public art piece like stalactites and stalagmites. The structures are composed of a range of wood samples, including ones that evolved millions of years ago to far more recent examples.
During three years of research and sourcing Paterson collected over 10,000 tree samples from various sources, including the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University and Yakushima, known as one of the wettest, forest-filled islands surrounding Japan. The collection also features a piece of wood from the Indian Banyan Tree, a fig tree where Buddha achieved enlightenment, the Japanese Ginkgo tree, and the Metuselah tree, found in the White Mountains in eastern California, which at 4,850 years old, is believed to be one of the oldest trees in the world.
Hollow is an ethereal environment for both play and meditation, and resembles a forest canopy with patches of light dappling in from the ceiling. The construction illustrates the detailed beauty of the natural world, and is poignant reminder of the importance of appreciating and maintaining our fragile natural environment. To step virtually into the permanent installation, visit Hollow‘s website.
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