Principle: Understand your audience
Insulation Installation Images that show people actively interacting with climate solutions are more powerful than images where people are passively observing them. Practical, ‘common sense’ actions like loft-insulation produce a positive emotional response.
What it shows: A man insulating a loft in New Zealand. Photo by Simon Williams
Principle: Be very careful with protest imagery
Co-operation for Forestry Our research found some strong opposition among those who didn’t already consider themselves environmentalists to images of ‘typical protesters’, who they saw as neither authentic or credible. Showing people who are genuinely affected by decisions about land use or energy infrastructure is an alternative to showing demonstrations in city centres.
What it shows: Peruvian Defense Minister meets with the first military contingent in the emergency areas to inspect the new river base of Puerto Ocopa. The military contingents will be responsible for fighting narcoterrorism including illegal logging. Photo by Luis Enrique Saldaña
Principle: Show climate causes at scale
Deepwater Horizon Spill The ‘tiny’ boats (in actual fact large tankers) illustrate the scale of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Images like these are likely to generate negative emotional reactions and offer an opportunity to question the ‘security’ that fossil fuels claim to offer.
What it shows: Fire boat response crews battle the 2010 Deepwater Horizon accident in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo by US Coast Guard something interesting in their political take on climate change and the images we were showing them. Another principle was about the scale at which you show the causes of climate change. We found that people were quite reactive in a negative way to being shown images of people, for example, eating meat or driving their car as a cause of climate change. But when you show people essentially the same thing, congested roads but at that collective scale, people were much more willing to recognise that as a cause of climate change. So there is something nuanced there which relates to more general climate communication advice around not making people feel guilty, because it can backfire. To make a final point, in terms of the current political context, we tested a range of protest images. We found that the classic imagery of people in face paint or just looking like traditional environmentalists (and the aesthetic that comes with that), pretty much across the board we found people were not interested in those images or actively didn’t like them. The thing that seemed to stick with people was that they didn’t believe that they were authentic and credible. They were quite cynical about their motives. Now I’m not saying that that’s fair but I think what’s different about the youth school protests is that that disappears completely. The reason it’s cut through and the reason it’s so powerful is that Greta and everyone else that’s taking part has this incredible authenticity about them that comes from their age and their lack of professional organisation as protesters. It’s clear that they mean it and it’s heartbreaking for that reason.
PL: Tell me more about the actual agency side of this. Am I right in thinking that you are acting as a platform for other people to distribute their work through? How are you developing relationships with photographers and agencies and the end users – the editors and so on – how do you see yourself brokering that? AC: That’s a good way of putting it, we are playing a kind of broker role I think and that’s classically something that Climate Outreach has done more generally: be a bridge between research and practice. In many ways that’s what we are doing with Climate Visuals as well. The way it works is that we’ve built up our image library partly through creative commons content, but only partly. Lots of the library, the majority now, has been built up through a range of different agencies. That includes Panos and Magnum and most recently Alamy. We’ve identified a set of say, a hundred images, that match the Climate Visuals principles and we are hosting them on our website. What we do is add a caption that doesn’t just say what’s in the image but explains why that image is there, why we think it works, how it relates to our research. So people can start to get a feel for, ‘Ok if we want to produce this kind of reaction... If we want to convey this kind of idea... these are the kinds of images that we might want to use’. We are not trying to grow to be a global photo exchange. We recognise that what we are doing is sign-