I just came from McGuffey Art Center, where—what do you know—the Festival of the Photograph is showing two exhibits related to matters of ecology. Both are about things that are disappearing as a result of our planetary misdeeds. In fact, the first is called "Vanishing Gems." It’s National Geo photographer Joel Sartore’s record of amphibians, which are under threat from all sorts of dangers including pollution and fungal infections.
Sartore shoots frogs and toads on stark black or white backgrounds, in a clinical and hyperreal style, letting their world-straddling natures emerge. They are both alien and terrestrial, aquatic and land-dwelling. The Canal Zone Tree Frog is sprightly while the Boreal Toad is lumpy and professorial. They’re all extravagently beautiful and intimately interlocked with their environments, and the show reveals "biodiversity" as an awe-inspiring and fragile phenomenon.
Such creatures might be utterly different than us (if you doubt it, stare at the Aquatic Caecilian, a primeval sandworm-like creature that inspires shivers just hanging on the wall), but no less than we do, they deserve to thrive in their given spots on the planet—not to appear belly-up in streams like half a dozen that Sartore photographed in the Sierra Nevada.
Also disappearing: glaciers. We know that. But most of us don’t get to see them in person on helicopter tours. Then again, most of us aren’t married to Al Gore. Who knew Tipper was an accomplished photographer? I didn’t, but I like her photos of Bishop Glacier, which document the literal edge of climate change: an enormous river of ice breaking up and floating away in chunks on a weirdly placid lake.
The glacier is just as unfamiliar and wondrous as the amphibians. It’s grandly textured and fantastically hued (from nearly black to the coldest pale blue you’ve ever seen) and it’s flatly and grimly photographed. Or is it just the knowledge of climate change that makes these images feel so off? See the show and decide for yourself. And kudos to the festival for including these two artists.