Editors note: We recently met Argentinian photographer Florencia Mazza Ramsay, whose portfolio includes work for Juxtapoz Magazine and Ralph Lauren, and asked her to write about her experience photographing Barrow, Alaska as she followed a team of UTEP scholars and international scientists to gain a new perspective on climate change. See more of her work at FlorenciaMazza.com.
So, we have just arrived to this small and very crowded airport. My imagination runs wild as I observe the new landscape and think about the sacrifices of good science and good art. Both disciplines require a substantial dose of idealism and selflessness. I feel the crisp cold air on my face, rejoicing and worrying about the ways I might communicate my concerns on climate change, a lifestyle I’ve never been exposed to, and what it means to be a scientist. I settle into the thought of letting these next three months surprise me.
I know what I don’t want to portray: the untranslatable tragedy of the melting ice – a dramatic reality of climate change, though not enough to make sense of the issues at hand. At the end of the day, most will still think of ice as just frozen water and polar bears as dwindling species. Unless you are part of a culture with more than a hundred words to describe different conditions of ice and snow, a photo of disappearing ice will serve as a beautiful decoration in service of perpetuating the notion of the north being a pristine and isolated landscape, a fleeting vision very much away from your reality.
Time went by allowing me to experience love, sacrifice and dedication. I’ve hiked part of the 76.5 miles of tundra that the UTEP students survey to track rates of coastal erosion and its environmental drivers and have gone on eight-hour boat rides that Dr. Craig Tweedie conducted as he took water samples and mapped the near-shore water depths. I was fortunate to meet George Divoky and Denver Holt, two wildlife biologists who have spent more than two decades studying Arctic species. These men and women are parents, spouses and basically individuals with roots away from Barrow. The word resilience keeps following me around. Being cold, wet and tired helped me question all the comforts we usually take for granted. The Inupiat prioritize feeding their community and must hunt in order to survive. They are now faced with one of the fastest changing ecosystems in the world. The complex dynamics of acculturation and the controversial tug of war between profiting from the land and conserving it are everyday issues in the North Slope Borough. The cost of things is not just a monetary figure.
More often now, I find myself thinking about the sources of our comforts and trying to act responsibly upon what I want compared to what I need. Although individual change might look discouraging, it’s our most powerful tool to generate change. In this interconnected scenario we live in, thinking local will have a global impact and will enable us to request and enact the changes we need for a successful future. After all, it’s in our best interest to take care of our home.