Interview: Melting Greenland Ice Sheet Captured in Ominous Aerial Photos

[My Modern Met] Aerial photographer Tom Hegen has dedicated his career to exposing how man has shaped the environment, and not always for the best. From engineered salt ponds to industrial tulip fields, these habitats are at once beautiful and frightening when one reflects on the consequences. It’s these consequences that are the focus of Hegen’s new series, titled two°celsius, which sees him taking flight over the Greenland Ice Sheet.
This vast body of ice, which covers about 80% of Greenland’s surface, is vulnerable to climate change and is already beginning to melt. Scientists predict that a 2 degree Celsius rise would completely melt Greenland’s ice, which would cause a global sea level rise of 24 feet (7.2 meters). With so much being said about the dangers of the Earth’s temperatures rising by 2 degrees Celsius, Hegen set out to get a first-hand look at the impact of mankind’s industrialization.
The resulting photos are deceivingly beautiful until one realizes that the turquoise that increasingly invades the photographs is only present due to rising temperatures and melting ice. Flipping from a nearly white, icy environment to a completely blue surface is a shocking reminder that global warming isn’t an abstract concept of the future, but a concrete reality of today.
We recently spoke with Hegen about his firsthand experience in Greenland and why he feels so strongly about using his art to raise awareness about how humans are shaping the environment. Read on for our exclusive interview.
It all started when I visited an exhibition back in 2015 about the suggested term Anthropocene. It’s a proposed term by a board of scientists for a new human area. Scientists around the world are recognizing that we as humans have such a strong impact on the geological, ecological, and atmospheric processes on earth that we have become the most impacting force on our planet. I wanted to access this topic with my own visual language and to start drawing attention to environmentally relevant issues to hopefully inspire people and to make a difference to our planet.
I also started to question the term “landscape” as known in landscape photography. “Land” is actually a word of Germanic origin and the roots of the suffix “-scape,” (schaffen in German), refers to the verb “shaping.” So landscape in a sense of landscaping refers to an activity that modifies the visible features of an area. As a consequence of that, I started seeing landscape photography as documenting places influenced by humans rather than landscape photography as showing pure, unspoiled nature. Read More and See Photographs

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