Climate Visuals Interview
Principle: Climate change impacts are emotionally powerful
Typhoon Aftermath This image shows the human dimensions of the aftermath of a natural disaster. Our research suggests that showing the impacts of climate change on children can provoke strong emotions.
What it shows: A young boy drags some bottles through the flooded streets of Metro Manila on 28 September 2009 after typhoon Ketsana hit the Philippines. Photo by Asian Development Bank posting and showcasing the really good work that’s out there. When you click on any image on the Climate Visuals website then, as well as the information about it, you get options to license or access the image. It takes you directly to where the rights are actually managed from; the original agency or the original rights holder. Where we are going next is to reach out and connect with the decision makers and gatekeepers within key media outlets, to support their working practices and decision making and the kinds of images that they foreground and reach for quickly. Obviously each institution has a different way of working, and competing pressures on how images are chosen, and we want to try and better understand that. I think once we get to the point where globally significant organisations are thinking in a slightly different way about climate imagery then all that wonderful content that is there will get that mainstream bandwidth in a way that at the moment it doesn’t.
PL: What response have you had from editors and publications, how much are they coming to you now as a first stop when they are looking for climate related imagery? AC: I think it’s a combination. We do want them to use our current collection as a port of call to guide their selection but we are also doing curating for people. We’ve done that already for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, their One Point Five Degrees report. We selected a set of twenty five images that fitted with the client visuals principles and illustrated all the different aspects of their report. We are doing a similar thing for the upcoming UN climate conference at the end of the year, selecting images that will reflect and highlight the themes of the conference. And we are now actively talking to editors, for example the Guardian’s team who are really active. They are talking about the ‘climate crisis’ and the ‘climate emergency’ instead of ‘climate change’ and there is a visual component to that which they recognise. So we’re talking to them at that strategic level about how they can better reflect their editorial direction of travel in imagery.
PL: Are you considering perhaps working more directly with photographers or agencies on projects and trying to help them develop their ideas for stories or large scale projects on climate change? AC: We have already been having conversations along those lines with one very major agency about the prospect for a big project, a campaign really that, on the one hand, highlights a range of new climate stories around the world, and on the other hand, reflects the kind of visual principles. That would then be able to sit in a more prominent position within that agency. It is partly about the back end stuff as well. It still seems slightly mysterious to me exactly what combination of human editorial decision making and algorithmic guidance goes into what content appears, but there’s a back end aspect to which images are tagged, in which ways, how they appear when you search for certain terms and I think that’s part also of the advocacy that we want to do.
PL: Could you define success for your initiative in say two or three years time? AC: Now we are focusing on the media gatekeepers and decision makers but what we are looking to do fairly soon is to run what we are calling a ‘baseline survey’ to make sure we’ve got an accurate check of where things are. In a couple of years time, I want and expect that baseline to have shifted, so that when you type ‘climate change’ into a search bar of Google and the mega agencies, we see different images coming up that better reflect Climate Visual’s recommendations. Because I think it all filters down from there, they are the wells that almost everyone draws from in one way or another and I think the smaller independent agencies, as you’d expect, are already closer to what we are talking about. The bigger more influential more dominant agencies and media outlets, once they start to shift in tone and editorial choice, it should stick around and at that point we’ve got a visual language that is more commensurate with the scale of the challenge and the urgency that we need to solve it.