Saturday, January 16, 2010

Glacial Retreat Exhibit: Double Exposure

This summer, I was fortunate enough to happen upon Double Exposure: an exhibit capturing glacial retreat by contrasting aerial imagery taken by Bradford Washburn between 1937 and 1960 with that taken by David Arnold between 2005 and 2007. I was well aware of the phenomenon, but still found the exhibit profoundly impressive.

One comparison from the exhibit: the Matterhorn, then and now.

It included massive panoramas, shot on either Washburn's 8x10 film (that is so huge!) or Arnold's 5x7 (still big), panels with information about glacial mass loss, and a video interview with Washburn, the legend. Standing there, looking at images larger than I am of the denuded mountains, listening to Washburn's description of hanging out the side of an airplane with a rope around his waist, I couldn't help but feel like something very import has been lost.

The romanticism of Washburn's extreme tactics I can get over: he wore wool flannel shirts while shooting in freezing temperatures, thousands of feet in the air, hanging from a hemp cord. I'll keep my high-loft insulation and WPB shell, thanks. But the vanishing glaciers make the permanent, timeless beauty of these landscapes feel vulnerable and ephemeral. That's not to say that they won't be impressive in the future, but it will be like a forest that has forever lost its leaves.

The exhibit is now a couple years old, and has since left Pittsburgh. It will be in Oklahoma City, OK from January 10 to May 1 and then Norwich, VT from September 25 to November 28. For those outside these cities, the exhibit website is still a worthwhile if unequal way to experience the project.

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