Framed in hard rain

The Heat Is On

Framed in hard rain

“The world we were born into is slipping away,” says UK-based environment campaigner Mark Edwards. As Earth faces a grave problem of environmental crisis — words are not all that the ace photographer and writer has to offer. Edwards is currently in India with his British Council sponsored three-city tour of the show — ‘Hard Rain: Our Headlong Collision with Nature’, which has already done its rounds in Mumbai and Kolkata and is now heading for Bangalore  (January 6, Lal Bagh). The exhibition is a compilation of hard hitting photographs put together over the last 40 years by Edwards and his colleagues across the world. Edwards uses the weight of Bob Dylan’s song, ‘Hard Rain’ to bear upon his warning and he illustrates the lyrics of the iconic song with a body of myriad photographs.

The expo involves display of the works of art at parks and open spaces to reach out to a large population. Edwards feels that he is clearly focused on having the problems dealt with, through unprecedented international cooperation. Through the pictures Edwards opines on burning issues, such as the recently concluded Copenhagen Summit. Also, he engages in not just a display of barrenness, pain, loss and shame, but an imagery of harsh beauty and hope that calls for immediate action.

Edwards is examining the ballad as not just a reminder of the prospect of nuclear war but also on the state of the dog-eat-dog planet in the throes of a violent environmental crisis. It links the issues of loss of habitat, increasing urbanisation, refugee influx, war between nations, poverty, species extinction and climate change in a cause-and-effect relationship. It showcases a bigger picture, which includes all the problems defining the 21st century.

A couple of images in the show represent Kathmandu in a sinister then-and-now sequence. While one of them is an idyllic black-and-white postcard setting for a picturesque hut belonging to agriculturist families, the other is a smoggy riot of thousands of huddled tenements built to provide shelter for a burgeoning population. Ironically, the two photographs are of the same place, with just a few decades to separate them.

“The exodus to modernity has lead to the loss of the world’s top soil. We’re already experiencing the effects of climate change. Hurricane Katrina has already demonstrated the destruction we are heading for,” says Edward, whose Hard Rain Project, began in 1969, aimed at mobilising the world and make governments take notice of the problems. In addition, pressing them to be proactive and solve these issues. Adding further, he says, “As a result of population explosion we have a world that is bursting at the seams. We are experiencing and extreme weather conditions. The time to act is now!”

The exhibition, with an array of pictures has human rights in its ambit as much as climate related issues. Conveying violation of human rights, one of the pictures, shows political prisoners, tortured to death by Pol Pot regime in Cambodia staring glassily from rows of grim portraits. One of the most evocative photographs of the show features a playful child with a toy gun in Bucharest, Romania, with a clutch of soldiers in the backdrop, reminding the viewer of the possibilities the future might hold for the little boy. It bears a caption, ‘I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children.’

The diversity of these works, all powerful in their own right, is the greatest strength of the exhibition. One cannot walk past the images without feeling the heat of the argument embedded in them or being scared by the chilling foreboding contained within their context. You cannot fail to appreciate Dylan’s poetry, in the light of a show that attempts to reinterpret a masterpiece through another art form. “Pictures communicate directly. Photographers often play with their vivid way of bringing reality alive,” explains Edwards, whose innate ability in doing this gives the exhibition its strong suit.  

Hard Rain on the whole, is inspired by and affords an apocalyptic vision of the future. It urges the spectator to act in a small way, to avert any further disasters in the planet. To add to it, reminding the society the social evils it is plagued by. Exemplifying the problem is an image of child workers at Manila Bay, Philippines, which exposes what Edwards calls “the unacceptable face of recycling”. The picture is a heart rending reminder of the 200 million child labourers toiling and facing humiliation by their employers across the world. Many of them are dying unnecessary deaths due to lack of basic healthcare, which is represented in a picture of the burial of a boy next to his sister in the shadow of the Taj Mahal. Then, these pictures are tellingly juxtaposed against the Bacchanalian extravagance of the ‘rich world’ engaged in revelry at Central Park in New York.

But Mark Edwards is anything but cynical. Who said he has just highlighted problems through these photos? The man has suggested solutions, which is his next step. “I am planning to put together a project which compiles a host of solutions. Though governments are yet to wake up to the possibilities of an imminent disaster, the industry is slowly changing. For instance we are faced with scarcity of oil, but more companies are seeing opportunities in renewable energy as we run out of the precious resource,” he avers.

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