No stranger to unique and challenging photography pursuits, Ben VonWong's latest adventure sent him across the Western United States in search of summer thunderstorms, with an entourage of assistants, filmmakers, and models helping along the way. VonWong shared this behind-the-scenes video, but also some insightful information as to the conversation he hopes to start– one about the seriousness of climate change.
For this project, VonWong has decided to use his art to try and make people take action, or at least become more aware of issues in the world in which we all live. I asked him why it was important to create work with this kind of meaning, and VonWong suggested that while not everyone needs to strive for this, he has decided that he wants to see it in his own work.
Art without purpose can only be appreciated and enjoyed and while that is definitely not to be taken lightly, I believe that creating something with the capacity to move people to action is definitely something worth striving for.
Traveling through parts of Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Montana, Nebraska, and North Dakota, VonWong collaborated with a small team that was put together via Facebook. I know many filmmakers and photographers are used to digging in and fighting fear and disregarding safety to get certain shots, but for a portrait shoot with models, I had to know how everyone felt working so close to severe storms.
I think everyone was just excited to be part of such a unique experience. Storm chasing and modeling aren’t typically two things that go together! I guess the most “scary” moment was when a Tornado formed less than a km away from us… though to be honest, I felt more excitement than fear!
I also chatted with Pat Black, who flew a DJI Phantom 3 for a few aerial shots. I asked him about the challenges of flying in inclement weather like this his, and even though he wanted to be careful, there's no controlling mother nature. He jokingly noted,
The whole time we were taking bets on if the drone would get struck by lightning. It actually held up pretty well with the wind all things considered, it was more of an issue with the set up time than anything else, and I didn't fly in GPS mode because of how long it would take it to find a connection in the middle of nowhere.
Lastly, I asked VonWong about the "Cowspiracy" tag on his images, and we talked about a documentary that he said affected him quite a bit.
Cowspiracy chronicles a journey to figure out why top climate change organizations avoid talking about the food industry. Though definitely a sensationalized piece, there are facts that cannot be ignored and one cannot help but leaving it feeling empowered to make a difference.
To me, I simply wanted to ignite a conversation - maybe even get people to watch the Cowspiracy piece for themselves on Netflix. Climate change is something that we all know is happening, but too often, we look the other way because it’s a complicated problem to tackle. And though it is an overwhelming one, getting educated is something that I have grown to believe is more empowering than depressing.
To learn more about Ben VonWong's Surreal Stormchasing Portraits project, check out his blog.