For forty years, James Balog has photographed the beauty of nature’s resources, and also the devastating impact of climate change on the earth and its inhabitants. For his projects exploring the consequences of human behavior, he has focused on interlocked events of melting glaciers, rising sea levels, warming oceans, air pollution, uninhabitable temperatures, and the destructive forces of hurricanes, floods, and wildfires.
Survivors: Animals In 1987, James Balog began a ten-year project to photograph animals outside their natural habitats, avoiding images suggesting that they live in the wild. Each animal was placed in a white-walled room or cinderblock structure symbolizing the houses and industries encroaching on the natural environment. All of the animals portrayed are or have been classified as endangered.
Survivors: Trees Between 1998 and 2004, he photographed 92 specimens of 47 different varieties of the largest, oldest, and strongest trees in America, including the giant “Stagg” sequoia in California, as tall as a 25-story building.
Altering Earth : The “Altering Earth” series is a diverse overview of the direct and indirect impact of human presence on the earth’s resources, including the extraction of minerals and stone, e.g. cutting marble in Carrara, Italy, and mine tailings in Climax, Colorado. As carbon dioxide is invisible, the focus is on sources of pollution, and children needing constant medical care. There are the aftermaths of hurricanes; then, instead of showing oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico, there are the oil-soaked nets of a Louisiana fisherman; rising sea levels are depicted by the picture of a boy clinging to his mother’s back near Virginia Beach, Virginia.
On Fire : From 2010 to 2016, ten active wildfires and their aftermath provided the focus for the photographer who also included fires in laboratory situations as a way of engaging with the pure, sculptural character of flames and the process of combustion.
Techno Sapiens : By 1991 James Balog considered that Homo sapiens was mutating into a new partially synthetic life form which he dubbed Techno sapiens. Today he sees these changes as part of the 21st century’s “new normal.”
Vanishing Ice : In 2006, James Balog and two National Geographic writers published “The Big Thaw” on the melting of glaciers. This proved to be the beginning of a deep dive into photographing glaciers, establishing the Extreme Ice Survey (EIS), and documenting glacial change by placing 25 specially designed cameras on rock walls above the glaciers, collecting 8,000 frames per camera every year, then constructing time-lapse digital sequences showing the glaciers retreating.