An Alternative Approach to Documenting Climate Change
In her series Broken Earth, documentary photographer Tine Poppe uses an infrared filter to highlight the vulnerable condition of agricultural landscapes in Malawi - a poetic yet worrisome take on the impact of climate change in one of the world’s poorest countries.
For each series she produces, Norwegian photographer Tine Poppe develops a specific visual language. "I find regular photography so boring! There are so many images that we don’t see them anymore", she half-jokes. And when she went to Malawi on assignment for the Norwegian Development Fund, Utviklingsfondet, to report on the social impact of climate change, she decided to use an infrared filter. "Many of my projects are part activism, so I’m always trying to visualise my point; to make it clear. In Malawi, I wanted to focus on nature, and infrared was a way to emphasise it”, Poppe explains. In her photographs, trees irradiate the landscape in eerie bright pink.
Malawi is among the countries that are the most exposed to climate change. Yet, most of the population live in the countryside, depending on agriculture for subsistence. "They have been farming according to rainy and dry seasons for years, but everything is upside down now. It ruins their crops, which is all that they have. It’s a disaster, really”, Poppe says. NGO’s such as Utviklingsfondet support farmers, teaching them to adapt to climate change, providing them with livestock and a variety of seeds to diversify their diet. “A lot of children suffer from stunting because they lack vitamins”, Poppe explains.
© Tine Poppe, from the series, Broken Earth. Mpani Edson Bonda and his wife Stella Mpani are both in their eighties. Their children were supposed to support them in their old age, but they died in Malawi’s AIDS epidemic.
The direct consequence of climate disorder in a country where, according to World Bank data, 84 percent of the 16 million-strong population live in rural areas, is primarily social. Most men in working age have left the country to seek opportunities elsewhere. Old people, women, and children are left with the burden of farming to sustain themselves despite the increase of floods. “There was this old couple who made a big impression on me. They were such hard workers. When you get old in Malawi, the younger generation takes care of you, but because of the situation, a lot of people don’t have children to look after them and still have to work in the fields. That was their case”, Poppe recounts.
People having barely enough food for themselves, they can’t sell the excesses of a harvest at the market – and even if they had, most Malawians could not afford to buy them. “I stayed with a woman selling vegetable on the side of the road for almost an hour and no one stopped”, Poppe recalls. The lack of resources forces people to find alternatives, such as illegally cutting trees to turn them into a highly demanded coal. In the short term, that helps them survive, but that’s without counting the effects of deforestation on climate change.
© Tine Poppe, from the series, Broken Earth. Female farmers have set up vegetable stalls on the road between Lilongwe and Mzuzu, hoping to make some extra income. Unfortunately there is not very much traffic and most of the vegetables end up unsold.
Tine Poppe is an artist / photographer living and working in Oslo, Norway. Her practice focuses on bringing attention to social, political, existential and environmental issues through art or documentary photography. Follow her on PHmuseum, Twitter, and Instagram.
Laurence Cornet is a writer and curator based in Brooklyn focusing on cultural and environmental issues.
Getting Closer presents photographic works, mainly in a documentary vein, that speak about the causes and consequences of environmental degradation.