This exhibition presents two perspectives on the true costs of carbon-based fuel production in the 21st century. The first by Garth Lenz explores the environmental costs related to the pending US State Department approval/disapproval of the $5.3 billion Keystone XL Pipeline, planned to bring oil from the Canadian Tar Sands in Alberta to port on the Gulf of Mexico. The other perspective by Lisa Wiltse explores the human costs by focusing on a small ghetto in Manila, Philippines called Ulingan where slum dwellers:
live amid filth and swirls of toxic smoke, eking out a living making charcoal. Children, who comprise a vital portion of the work force, labor without protective masks, gloves, or boots. Some are naked.
Lenz’s project focuses on the work of TransCanada, a global multi-billion dollar company providing energy for a world market. Wiltse’s work focuses on children living in one of the world’s too numerous and too vast slums who also produce energy, but unlike TransCanda, their production supports the energy needs of their immediate neighbors in Ulingan. In both cases the result is fossil fuel consumption that leads to climate change according to the vast majority of climate scientists.
Wiltse’s work is traditional documentary style bringing us into the homes, work, play and lives of these young children with her bold, dark and colorful images. As horrendous as the external circumstances, Wiltse also finds extraordinary beauty and sensitivity in her subjects. They deserve our attention not only because they are victims, but also because they are individuals who share in our humanity. In them we see ourselves and our own children.
Lenz’s work is in the style of traditional landscape shot from an airplane, often with an extremely high resolution camera, capturing breathtaking views of the natural environment juxtaposed to the sites of Tar Sands mining. What Wiltse does with children in Ulingan, Lenz does with trees and waterways in the Canadian boreal forest. Not only does he show us the destructive effects of energy production, but he shows the extraordinary beauty of the surrounding landscape.
In the work of each photographer, we discover both the tragedy of our existence on earth, but also the possibility and the shear wonder and tenacity of both the human and natural spirit.
While each situation marches us on the path of climate change, each also demonstrates quite profoundly why we should care.
—Glenn Ruga, Curator
"Global Warning Reviews"
Boston Magazine- Yiqing Shao, "555 Gallery's Lastest Exhibit Presents Stark Images in 'Global Warning'"
Watch Garth Len'z TED Talk on the Alberta Tar Sands
SEPTEMBER 11, 2014
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.
BOSTON MAGAZINE- YIQING SHAO: 555 "GALLERY'S LASTEST EXHIBITION PRESENTS STARK IMAGES IN 'GLOBAL WARNING'"
SEPTEMBER 12, 2014
Currently on view at 555 Gallery are works by two photographers who bring new light to the effects of fuel production today.
In an exhibit titled “Global Warning: An Exhibition on Carbon-Based Fuel Production in the 21st Century,” images taken by Garth Lenz and Lisa Wiltse show us what’s at stake in the fight for oil and other resources.
In “The True Cost of Oil,” Lenz’s photography looks at the environmental and ecological costs of the Keystone XL Pipeline and “tar sands” mining. His sweeping landscapes are both beautiful and daunting, as they show what environments are at risk and how the hunt for oil threatens the survival of those ecosystems. The contrast between his breathtaking landscapes of nature undisturbed to those of tar sands mining sites gives us a sense of doom and gloom.
While Lenz shoots from the skies, Lisa Wiltse gets personal on the ground with “The Charcoal Kids of Ulingan.” Her work shows scenes from a Manila community where people live in highly unhealthy circumstances. The locals are exposed to dangerous emissions like carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, and soot, and according to the exhibit description, estimates suggest that 60 percent of the population has tuberculosis. Children are a “vital portion of the work force” in this dangerous environment.
“In the work of each photographer, we discover both the tragedy of our existence on earth, but also the possibility and the shear wonder and tenacity of both the human and natural spirit. While each situation marches us on the path of climate change, each also demonstrates quite profoundly why we should care,” writes curator Glenn Ruga.
SEPTEMBER 24, 2014
Then there is the earth itself, trampled by industry and demands for energy. Garth Lenz’s photographs of the Alberta Tar Sands and Canada’s magnificent boreal forest, which tar mining threatens, are on view at 555 Gallery.
Lenz often shoots from a plane, finding stunning patterns in the landscape below. “Boreal Forest and Wetland, Athabasca Delta, Northern Alberta” and “Tar Pit #3, Alberta Tar Sands” hang side by side. They sport similar snaking curves. But in “Boreal Forest,” those curves mark the contours of a startlingly blue river, coiling through golden autumnal woods, and in “Tar Pit #3,” they are mining roads, ribboning around sickly, orange-green pools and knobby, rutted, scarred earth.
Whether he’s photographing industry or landscape, Lenz gives his image massive scope, high-resolution detail, and a keen sense of shape, pattern, and texture — he seeks and finds abstraction in landscapes. “Tailings Pond in Winter, Abstract #1, Alberta Tar Sands” and “Aspen and Spruce, Northern Alberta” have the same sense of being covered in pale textures, interrupted by veined darkness — a spruce, in the first case, and in the second, dark oily strands among ice, sand, and wavering traces of water.
Like Lenz, Lisa Wiltse photographs impacts of the energy industry. She visited urban slums in Manila, where children are put to work gathering scraps of wood to make charcoal. One image in the “Charcoal Kids of Ulingan” series shows a little boy, no more than 5, pausing from his labor to wipe the soot from his face with his shirt.
Lenz depicts how our hunger for energy scars the earth; Wiltse’s photos of child labor, extreme poverty, and miserable working conditions reveal the human cost, and remind us — as “Far From Indochine” does — of how indifferent to ordinary people economic powers can be.