With his camera, photographer J. Henry Fair relates the untold stories behind humanity’s rampant consumption and its devastating consequences for the planet – from the air that is polluted and the water that is contaminated to the diverse habitats destroyed along the way. His work is versed in both the language of art and of science.
Fair’s book Industrial Scars (Papadakis) compiles striking photographs of industrial sites that reveal the real cost of the things we consume every day – from the coal that powers our lights and the oil that fuels our cars to the aluminium that creates our ubiquitous soft-drink cans.
These large-scale aerial photographs have been captured from the open windows of small airplanes.
“Being in a plane enables me to jump the tallest fence, cover the long distances and see what is hidden from most people,” Fair says.
Panoramic vistas are tainted with the artificial colours of industrialisation transforming idyllic landscapes into dystopian realities. Rivers flow ultramarine blue with toxic selenium leaked from ash waste ponds, oceans float with shimmery, metallic islands of oil spilled from wells, and expansive fields of bright yellow rapeseed are interrupted with red metal drill rigs used for fracking.
The images assault the senses with stark dichotomies, pulling the viewer into a tug of war between beautiful abstraction and ugly truths, between awe and horror.
“A beautiful image of something horrible,” Fair says, “pushes and pulls the viewer, and causes dissonance, and we should be disturbed by these things.” The beauty of the abstract artwork captivates the attention before the reality of the imagery becomes apparent.
Fair says his art is a tool, a way to work beyond the confines of dialogue and to connect with people directly through universals. It commands us to stop and contemplate our own complicity in what is portrayed. He wants his images to provoke, motivate us to take ultimate responsibility for our actions, put our money where our values lie and change our behaviour to reduce our own personal footprint.
“If one person buys toilet paper made from old newspapers instead of from an old-growth forest, “ he says, “that one person can save a forest in her lifetime.”
Jessica Snir is a clinical trial coordinator at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia and Cosmos contributor.
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