Big Sky

Adam Ferguson

2014 - Ongoing

Climate change is upending the lives of thousands in the outback of Australia, and I want to show you how. For the last seven years, Australia has been suffering from its hottest-ever drought. While Down Under is no stranger to drought, as the planet continues to warm, drought is hitting the country and its people harder than ever. Farms are shuttering, towns are emptying, animals are perishing, kids are venturing further and further for school, and the land is drying. Farmers are struggling to make ends meet, and climate change is challenging the livelihoods and core identity of the outback. Through an exploration of my homeland, including iconic Australian events, bush-towns, Indigenous communities and pastoralism, I will capture the lives at the forefront of climate change.

The science is there, but the stories are not. Since 2005, Australia has experienced 9/10 of its warmest years on record. This past year, the country has suffered from the gamut of extreme weather linked to climate change: bushfires, heatwaves, flooding, and drought. And Australia is not alone. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, by the end of the century drought will become more common and severe across the planet’s mid-latitudes and the subtropics. Experts say Australia’s ongoing drought is a harbinger of things to come. I first saw the impact of climate change on rural communities in Australia when I worked on a cultural story for The New York Times in 2017. A small part of this project focused on the drought stricken area around Longreach in Queensland. In 2018 I documented the drought stricken communities northern New South Wales for Time Magazine. To my knowledge I am one of the few photographers focusing on these communities in depth, if not the only. Based on everything I have witnessed through my previous projects, I know I have only scratched the surface. With this grant I hope to return to Australia and go deeper into the changing dynamics of the communities facing the impacts of climate change.

While the science is real, our understanding of the people and lives affected by climate change in Australia are not. Australia is now a multicultural society where 86% of the population lives in coastal cities, yet the outback is central to national identity and politics. It’s endlessly romanticized, but in reality, it is a place in rapid decline, a phenomenon exacerbated by climate change.

Drawing on memory and personal childhood impressions, I seek to challenge and negate the romantic notions that inform an often-misunderstood people and landscape. Positioning outback Australia amidst a global crisis, I aim to capture a disintegrating way of life in regional Australia before it is forever changed by climate change.

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