Editor’s Note: James Balog is everywhere you want to be at Mountainfilm in Telluride. In-person appearances include the following: Images from Extreme Ice Survey at the Telluride Gallery of Fine Art during the weekend kick-off, Gallery Walk, 3:30 – 6:30 p.m., Friday, May 25. Balog takes part in a Coffee Talk at Honga’s Lotus Petal, 8 a.m., Saturday, May 26. The screening for “Chasing Ice” is also on Saturday, but later in the day, 3: 30, p.m., at the Michael D. Palm Theatre. On Sunday, he participates in Mountainfilm’s Reading Frenzy, starting 2 p.m. at the Telluride Middle School/ High School.
“If there was ever a film that needed to be on the big screen, this is it!,” David Courier, Sundance Senior Programmer
In a “A Redwood Grows in Brooklyn” David celebrated James Balog who himself made outstanding portraits, in this case of “superlative” trees, which he photographed as he traveled across the country. Balog’s images of trees, just like his images of animals, almost always have a subtext. His subjects become an excuse for the artist and mountaineer to pose a simple, but profound question: Are we really the only ones who are not part of nature?
Balog is a “fellow” in the International League of Conservation Photographers, an organization of gifted artists like himself, men and women who pooh-pooh the notion of art for art’s sake. The group of eco-adventurers and environmental activists argues that to be truly great, art should move people to action, echoing a Mountainfilm theme about becoming the change we need.
From tracking trees and the like, Balog went on to chase ice.
In 2005, James Balog, on assignment for National Geographic, headed to the Arctic on a tricky assignment: capture images that would help tell the story of the Earth’s changing climate. Even with a scientific upbringing – he holds a graduate degree in geology and geomorphology – Balog had been a skeptic about climate change and a cynic about the nature of academic research. But that first trip north opened his eyes what is arguably the biggest story in human history.
In 2007, effectively “born again,” Balog founded the Extreme Ice Survey (EIS), a long-term, innovative photography project that merges art and science to give a “visual voice” to the planet’s changing ecosystems by bearing silent witness to inconvenient truths.
EIS imagery provides a unique baseline—useful in years, decades and even centuries to come—for revealing how climate change and other human activities are impacting the planet. However, EIS is presents something of a paradox: this man, this scientist, now with his hair on fire would have to wait years to see the fruits of his labor. What’s more, to do the work he felt needed doing, Balog had to battle untested technology in subzero conditions – not to mention, come face-to-face with his own mortality.
For the geeks in the tribe, one aspect of EIS is a portfolio of single-frame photographs celebrating the beauty—the art and architecture—of ice. The other aspect of EIS is time-lapse photography: currently, 27 cameras are deployed at 18 glaciers in Greenland, Iceland, the Nepalese Himalaya, Alaska and the Rocky Mountains of the U.S. These cameras record changes in the glaciers every half hour of daylight year round, yielding approximately 8,500 frames per camera per year. The time-lapse images are edited into hauntingly beautiful videos that compress years into seconds and capture ancient mountains of ice in motion as they disappear at a breathtaking rate and reveal how fast climate change is transforming large regions of the planet.
Directed by Jeff Orlowski, who is also a cinematographer for EIS, the documentary “Chasing Ice” tells the story of Balog’s mission to change the tide of history by gathering irrefutable evidence about the catastrophic results of a carbon-powered planet.
“Chasing Ice” won an Excellence in Cinematography Award at Sundance in February. Now it screens at Mountainfilm in Telluride, which Balog describes as a “home away from home.”
“Climate change is a universal human issue. It transcends politics and doesn’t belong to one party or another,” he explains. “The phenomenon has profound implications for the health, security, economics and food and water supply of every person on the planet, now and for generations to come. The San Juan Mountains in general and Telluride Mountainfilm in particular have been a tremendously inspiring presence in my life for a long, long time. I’m really pleased for the chance to tell the story of how the world at large is changing–and changing radically–to my home-away-from-home crowd.”
Watch the following video for a preview of “Chasing Ice.”
And if you like, listen to what the director had to say: