21 April 2017
21 April 2017 - Written by Laurence Cornet
For 25 years, James Whitlow Delano has documented the impact of the global consumption chain on the environment. Mainly in a soft black and white, he documented people exposed to the destruction of their environment; collateral damage for the world's hunger for cheap products.
© James Whitlow Delano - Batek Negrito women rest beside a muddy logging road in the heart of the Batek Negrito homeland that had been surveyed and marked for logging in the last, very narrow strip of old growth rainforest that still existed sandwiched between Taman Negara National Park and massive oil palm plantations.
In January 2015, photographer James Whitlow Delano created the Instagram Feed #Everyday Climate Change, with the support of #Everyday project’s founder, Peter di Campo. In a context of environmental emergency, the feed aims at depicting the scope of the threat. “I hope to bring something to the conversation as visual evidence and photography speak very strongly about what is happening all over the world”, Delano says. “It may be more visible in the Andes where glaciers are melting but climate change is happening everywhere. I want people to develop a sense of crisis and photography has a very important role to play in this.”
© James Whitlow Delano - Trucks piled high with coal wait to unload this highly polluting fossil fuel at a huge electric power plant, just south of Xingtai, rated the city with the most contaminated air in China.
In 1993, he moved to Japan and started to work all around Asia, which “has seen more destruction post-WWII than any region in the world”, he points. Traveling across China for example, he would head 5 hours out of a megalopolis and still be surrounded with smog. There, he documented visible impacts of mass consumerism. Delano then travelled to Ecuador and other Latin American countries to document the latent impact of big corporations infringing on the land. “If you go to the Amazon, we know that there is deforestation but there is not as much evidence as in Asia. My photo was born out of anger and wanting to show evidence of how corporations disregard human rights”, he explains. “I find great differences depending on the countries, especially in terms of the level of empowerment of the people to save their own destiny and land. Typically, individual rights are not so important in Asia - if an indigenous person tries to defend its territory there, he most of the time fails.”
© James Whitlow Delano - A woman from the Ethiopian Highlands carries a heavy sack of wheat, aid from the United States to ward off famine, despite the return of the rains.
Despite the efforts of environmental activists, awareness was not as rooted two decades ago as it is today. Still, we are at an early stage of positive change. While long gone species are slowly reinvesting areas they had escaped from, environmental improvement is still needed. “Next step is getting people to realize that if solutions are too expensive now, they might not be in 10-year time”, he envisions. “I always like to talk about life style solutions that I see in Japan’s post-modern society”, he continues. The island’s carbon footprint is 50% lower per capita than that of the United States, and this could be explained by gestures such as the use of bicycles and responsible individual heating. “It’s a step forward”, he says. “Every society has something that they do better than anyone else as far as efficiency goes, and we have to inspire each other.”
James Whitlow Delano is an American reportage photographer based in Tokyo, Japan. See more of his work on his PHmuseum profile.
Laurence Cornet is a writer and curator based in Brooklyn focusing on cultural and environmental issues.