Check out these time-lapse selections from Google Earth Engine that run from 1984 to 2018. They're an epic way for photography and time-lapse to show the massive changes that have occurred to our planet within the span of a lifetime.
The recent UN report on the roughly one million species heading toward extinction got me thinking of how photography can help reduce that number. Like any time spent on the internet, I dove deep and followed lots of wormholes. One that struck me as very powerful was the immense amount of information Google Earth contains. On the surface, it’s a great tool to plan an upcoming shoot or scout some obscure location without the long plane flight. Dig deeper, and you can measure distances from island to island with a couple clicks — super helpful when planning schedules for a weekend shoot on the coast of Maine. Aside from the daily useful things you can do with Google Earth, you can see how we humans have changed the face of our planet since 1984, little by little. Coastal expansion in Dubai, deforestation in Brazil, and the drying up of the Aral Sea in Kazakhstan: it’s all right there to watch in four seconds. If you’d rather be mesmerized by the power of the ocean, check out Cape Cod, Massachusetts and watch how the sand bars migrate South and break in various spots from hurricanes and winter storms. It's time-lapse and photography on a massive scale and accessible to anyone with an internet connection, billions of small parts stitched together and shown over time to paint a remarkable picture.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in technology, especially when looking into satellite and cameras shooting from space. It’s easy to talk resolution, petabytes of data, and all the other bits and pieces that go into the technical side of the photography and these images. The more interesting wormhole to dive into is what can be accomplished over time, both good and bad. How do we use our skills as photographers to create positive impacts? Take what you’re good at and use it.
Most everyone here has probably heard of Joel Sartore and his Photo Ark project, photographing all the endangered species, not in their natural surroundings, but with a white or black backdrop — fashion photography at its finest and with its most important subjects. Here’s a talk Joel did for National Geographic if you want to know more about it. Joel estimates it will take him the rest of his life to get close to making all the images needed, a truly immense investment of time and energy. Thankfully, we all have different and varied passions and desires, but each of them can be harnessed to push the needle in the right direction. Our work doesn’t need to be huge like Google Earth or epic like Joel’s; it can be centered locally. After years of photographing conflict and human atrocities, Sebastiao Salgado returned to his childhood home along with his wife, and there they spent two decades replanting the surrounding rainforest that was cleared down to nearly nothing. The forest is thriving, and many native species have returned. You can read more about the work at Smithsonian Magazine.
The combination of time, energy, and dedication can move mountains, like the mining shown in West Virginia. It can also be used to focus on the last remaining species in a different way or to turn back the clock on a once dying rainforest.
What are you and your work going to do to move things in the right direction, socially, environmentally? It just takes getting started; then, keep going. After 20 years or so, we can look back and see how all those small changes made a larger impact.