Ghost glaciers: the transcendent Anthropocene – in pictures.

24 02 2020 | 05:37

Peter Funch’s latest photo-book, The Imperfect Atlas, explores human impact on the environment by using a technique invented at the height of the industrial revolution – RGB tri-colour separations


‘The idea for The Imperfect Atlas was to document retreating glaciers,’ says Funch. ‘I am sure the question of why we were fantasising about nature in such an isolated and utopian way must come up. Today’s talk of losing our way in nature may seem old fashioned, but we are just a few steps from developing a full artificial intelligence, which may also change our connection to nature. It might even be that the hyper-intelligence emerging from AI can change the acceleration and direction of climate change’ All photographs: Peter Funch


The images are done with RGB separation, explains Funch. ‘I shoot three images, holding up the different filters in front of the digital camera – one red filter, one green and one blue. On the computer, the red filter goes to the red channel, and so on. This creates a photo file in the full-colour spectrum. I make three negatives from the three channels, using these negatives in the darkroom to make a C-print, which gives the final print an analogue feel. It is elaborate, but I wanted to operate in the tradition of colour photography from the days of its invention in the industrial revolution’


‘Scale screams of its importance in these works,’ says Funch. ‘The scale of nature against the scale of humans. The huge scale of nature’s problems against the trivial scale of our problems. What scale, then, should the work take? Billboards, books, prints, a slide lecture? Does it need to exist in physical form? So it works as a kind of an atlas on change and disappearance. These thoughts led to the title The Imperfect Atlas’


‘It is a shock to see such radical changes in glaciers and the surrounding nature,’ he says. ‘And understanding even a little bit about nature makes you realise the snowball effect we have started’


‘The younger generation who are born into climate change, who talk about climate change in the context of human rights – that is a new dimension to this matter’


This image, along with the ones above and elsewhere in the gallery, are of Mount Baker, Washington


‘To walk in the landscape is to be reminded of what the relation between humans and nature has been and should be,’ says Funch. ‘I appreciate the sounds and smells and the scale of nature – how it connects us to the past. The Nisqually Glacier of Mount Rainier becomes the Nisqually River, which ends in the Puget Sound, an inlet of the Pacific Ocean’


‘It is a relatively short journey, but it traverses the length of the story from nature into civilisation,’ he explains, ‘and from the past to the present. It is a journey into complexity, into civilisation. This also works as a journey through time’


Funch says he is aiming for a kind of transcendent effect in the images, via the RGB filters – one similar to that evoked by the Hudson River School artists. ‘I was looking for a historic tool that symbolises human interference, and to take a tiny step away from reality’


The Imperfect Atlas has been shown via Project Pressure, a charity that visualises climate change. The Guardian’s Sean O’Hagan writes about Funch and other artists’ involvement in the project here


Funch used vintage postcards as a model for his images of Washington’s Mount Baker to capture the effects of glacial recession. ‘Photography is an interesting tool since it is so dependent on the reality in front of us, while at the same time it can be used to describe something so general that everyone can relate to it,’ he says.


The book includes postcards, such as those seen here. Featuring images captured during Funch’s trips through the Northern Cascade mountain range in the US, it is an imperfect recreation of landscapes and wilderness


Funch used maps and satellite imagery to locate the position where the postcard images were created, then brought in the RGB process described above to create a magical, almost Technicolor effect. Here he depicted Thunder Glacier in Washington


*Title Photo : Mount Baker Expedition. Photograph: Funch/Peter Funch




20 February 2020

The Guardian