Anthropocene Photography for the 2020s

What are your hopes for anthropocene photography in the 2020s?

My hope is that anthropocene photography moves past largely representing the Anthropocene as the toxic-industrial sublime, that picture editors experiment with different ways of communicating its dimensions and that critiques of images move past perverse and violent beauty.

Anthropocene Composite: ESA/AFP/Getty/Alamy/VCG/USGS, Guardian 2019.

Edward Burtynsky has cornered the fine art world of anthropocene photography. Yet his practice predates its announcement, having worked since the 1980s on the large scale impacts of humans on the environment. The Anthropocene seemed custom made for Burtynsky’s approach.

Burtynsky’s work is hugely affecting and with time the images only become more urgent. Things are not yet getting better and the 2018 IPCC issued 12 year time frame for action helped make 2019 a year of crises.

Dandora Landfill #1, Nairobi, Kenya, 2016 © Edward Burtynsky

These toxic-industrial sublime photographs of the Anthropocene show the massive scale, alienness, and visual beauty of human impacts on the environment and they contain the threat of a world to come.

According to philosopher Carlos Santana, the Anthropocene works better as a threat than a promise. But to motivate action, it should be presented as an avoidable future.

Environmental humanities scholar Christopher Schaberg points to further challenges for representations of the Anthropocene. That the Anthropocene is at once both horrifying, vivid, and cinematic – and – elusive, indistinct, and almost invisible.

It’s a million little gears and electronic signals in sync, as well as a gradual, cumulative reshaping of the atmosphere.

For Schaberg, a “double awareness” is needed to perceive both of these perspectives.

It’s increasingly evident how much damage has been done to the planet. Hopefully the 2020s will see an end to anthropogenic climate change denying politics.

iss061e110462_largeEarth As Seen From the Space Station, Jan. 3, 2020, NASA.

My hope for anthropocene photography for the 2020s is that it helps navigate towards just living on our beautiful, complex, and heterogenous home.