Amongst the 34 unique points of view chosen by the jury of the LensCulture's Earth Awards 2015, we have selected 7 images that catch our attention, from Renee C. Byer, Kemal Jufri, Eduardo Leal, Alessandro Grassani, Daniel Kariko, Pawel Bogumil and Pierpaolo Mittica.
Electronic Waste Dumpsite: Renée C. Byer
2nd Place Series Documentary Winner
What used to be the pristine waters of the Korle Lagoon in the city of Accra, Ghana, West Africa, is now an electronics dumpsite that is so toxic that neither fish nor worms can survive. The children that work on this e-waste dumpsite burn computers in order to extract any valuable metals that might fall to the ground. In the process they expose themselves to toxic fumes that gather in their clothes, skin, and lungs. These are the remains from the cast-off computers of the Western world.
Living in the Shadow of Fire Mountains: Kemal Jufri
3rd Place Series Documentary Winner
Indonesia, home to more than one hundred volcanoes, sits directly above the Pacific Ring of Fire and the Alpide Belt cuts across the country's two main islands of Java and Sumatera. Due to its critical position atop the equatorial earthquake belt, this archipelagic nation gets its ample share of devastating temblors and equally perilous volcanic eruptions. A volcano is revered and bestowed important status in Indonesian traditional culture. It is considered an embodiment of the creator of the universe and is looked upon as the heart of creation, throne of the gods and seat of unparalleled strength. Thus, volcanoes are perceived both as the benefactors and destroyers of life.
The relationship between man and volcano satisfies the need in humans to be coupled with the Divine and over time people endow these enigmatic fire mountains with human traits symbolizing fertility, bountiful harvests and wealth for the people. In particular, the Divine Feminine is customarily associated with a volcano's nurturing nature and looked upon as a source of life and abundance. Hence, a volcanic eruption is literally the process of shaping sacred fertile land and a necessary part of co-evolution to ensure survival. Ironically, the same fresh lava flow that nourishes the land obliterates everything on its path, living or dead.
It has been a challenge over the years for the authorities to convince those who were born and raised at the volcanos' bases of the imminent danger that is posed to their lives and property. The inhabitants choose to surrender their fate to these fostering, albeit treacherous, fire mountains and persist to live in their shadows as their ancestors have done before them for generations.
Plastic Trees: Eduardo Leal
3rd Place Series Fine Art/Conceptual Winner
The world consumes one million plastic bags every minute. It is consider by Guinness World Book of Records as "the most ubiquitous consumer item in the world." But the ever-useful plastic bag has become the main source of pollution worldwide. It can be found everywhere on the planet: from the seaside to the bottom of the ocean to the Arctic. Even at the top of the world, on Mount Everest, you can find some plastic. Since most of the plastic isn't biodegradable, it will last for hundreds of years in the environment. The problem is even more acute in developing countries, where waste management infrastructures are not properly developed and where the population is used to throwing everything away. This accumulation of plastic bags in the environment has caused the deterioration of the landscape as well as the destruction of agricultural soils. It is also associated with the death of domestic and wild animals. "Plastic Trees" was made to call attention to this problem. The work focuses on the spread of plastic bags on the Bolivian Altiplano, where millions of bags travel with the wind until they get entangled in native bushes, damaging the beautiful landscape. Sadly, these images don't portray an isolated case-this phenomenon can be seen in many countries all over the world.
Environmental Migrants: The Last Illusion: Alessandro Grassani
A multi-chapter project started in 2011, "Environmental Migrants: The Last Illusion" depicts one of the main (and often overlooked) consequences of climate change on human populations: the environmental migrants. According to forecasts by the United Nations, in 2050 the Earth will have to face the trauma depicted by 200 million environmental migrants. Ninety percent of these migrants live in developing countries. They will not "land" on the richer nations, but will look for new sources of income in the urban areas of their home countries, which are already overcrowded and often extremely poor. However, once they arrive, because of the lack of resources, education, and opportunities, their dream of a favorable future turns into the bitter death of their illusions. Focusing on rural-urban environmental migration, Mongolia's extreme cold-induced migration, Bangladesh's sea level rise, and Kenya's drought offered a glimpse on the future of our planet. In every chapter of this project, I compare the stories of people who struggled against environmental adversities in the most affected areas, with the poor living conditions of the environmental migrants living in the capital city slums where they try to increase their chances of a wealthy future. Environmental migration is like an unexploded ordinance: in a not too distant future, the entire planet will have to endorse the economic and social burden of its consequences. In 2050, one in 45 people will be an environmental migrant, and cities will double along with the misery. New individuals, families, and communities will lose their lands and their livelihoods without the dream of finding a better life in the city.
Suburban Symbiosis, Insectum Domesticus: Daniel Kariko
Insects find way into our homes no matter how vigilant we are in our effort to keep the nature on the other side of our windowpanes. During my investigation of the suburban experience, I started recording the indoor wildlife consistent with the environment my subdivision occupies. In the Southeast, the seasons can be measured by the occurrences of various insect swarms. Insects represent almost 85% of all known animal species. Taxonomists name and describe about 2,000 species of insects annually. Unfortunately, many species of insects will become extinct before they are even discovered, due to habitat loss and other environmental problems. Yet, these little (and sometimes not so little) invaders are a natural product of our own occupation of their habitat. As we keep expanding our subdivisions to the outskirts of towns, we inhabit recently altered environments. This project investigates the results of our expansion into rural areas. These images are meant to be a portrait series of our often-overlooked housemates. The "portraits" are composites of a number of exposures with Scanning Electron Microscope and Stereoscopic Microscope. I carefully arrange the LED lighting, small reflectors, and diffusers, in order to achieve a "portrait"-like effect inspired by the tradition of 17th Century Dutch masters.
inHUMAN: Pawel Bogumil
We strictly demarcate the separation between the world of humans and that of animals. Each creature-except man-we call an animal. We describe humans as living creatures, distinguished by the highest degree of development of the psyche and social life, while the rest are mere animals. Generally accepted, these boundaries are not not contractual, but determined, and eliminate any space for beings caught between these two terms. While visiting more than fifteen zoos in Europe, I observed and photographed living organisms which are the most similar to the human being: apes. Initially, I was looking for superficial, anatomical similarities and deceptively manlike behaviors. When visiting zoos as an average visitor, I was unable to capture more than aesthetic images of animals in a changing environment of runs and cages. Only a longer observation of individual characters allowed me to perceive various grimaces, gestures, and emotions surfacing from broad animal mechanics. Almost two years of observing primates forced me to rebuild my opinions anew. Asked today, I would reply that we should not treat them as mere animals, but perhaps think of them as self-aware non-human persons full of emotions, despite their limitations of beastly instincts and reactions patterns.
Karabash, The Russian Ghost Town: Pierpaolo Mittica
The Russian city of Karabash, in the Chelyabinsk region, is one of the most polluted places on earth. The city is the site of a copper-smelting plant, built more than a 100 years ago, and its toxic waste has caused enormous pollution and dire health problems for the inhabitants of the region. Since 1910, when the plant first began, more than 180 tons of sulphur dioxide and heavy metals have been released into the air every year. Forests, rivers, and the soil all have an orange tint because of the residues from the processing of copper and iron, whose concentration is 500 times higher than it would normally be. The immense emissions of sulphur dioxide and the highly polluting atmospheric particulate matter are responsible for the higher rates of skin diseases, cancer, strokes and congenital malformations among the population. In 1970, Karabash was a city of 70,000 inhabitants. There are currently 16,000. Those who have the chance, escape from this hell, but most of the population does not have the possibility to leave. As a result, their average life expectancy is 45 years. A large part of the city, which is downwind of the plant, was evacuated over the years because of the high concentration of dioxin. Today, only the bones of a ghost town remain. Additionally, the city is divided in two by a large black mountain made of copper processing debris called Black Slag. It is 20 meters high and more than two kilometers in length, and the dust constitutes a constant threat to the population, especially when the wind blows. The copper smelting plant has transformed the area into a living hell.