The fires have been burning in Australia since the end of September - beginning of October. The warnings for this high risk season were issued months earlier, and yet here we are. A dangerous combination of extreme heat, draught, and strong winds, due to the ever increasing greenhouse gasses, preventing the earth from cooling off - which on one hand cause oceans to heat and cool differently and as a result impacts rainfall, and on the other hand causes changes in direction and strength of winds, which impact the fires by fanning them on. In other words, climate change doing its thing.
In the meantime Scott Morrison, Australia’s prime minister, merely continues to play the political game of remaining dubious about his position on climate change, leaving enough room for interpretation from whatever side you’re looking on in an attempt to keep everyone on his side. Yet, his popularity is dropping and the time for political games is long gone, this is not a problem for tomorrow any longer. Instead, we should stop pretending that our destructive way is the best way and start listening to what the earth is telling us and work with it instead of against it.
In all the media coverage about these fires and its victims, very little has been said about the indigenous population of the country. They have lost their homes, their lands, collections of artefacts and data from years of research, sacred sites etc. Whereas these people are the ones living in accordance with nature, once again they are the victims of the western belief of superiority. Yet, they are willing to teach their ways of taking care of nature based on ancient knowledge, with for example workshops on ceremonial burning in which they teach how to control the burning, keep it slow and low, giving the animals a chance to get to safety and to leave the trees intact. Cultural burning won’t change the climate, but it is one of the tools needed to adapt and keep disasters like these to a minimum.
The massive media coverage gives rise to another question, more specifically regarding the imagery that went viral. Some platforms even gave trigger warnings for sensitive viewers about the difficult content showing death and destruction. Others showed it with the most confrontational image next to the headline, competing for the most readers. The risk however with the apocalyptic imagery is that we either do not look at it closely enough because it is too painful (hence the trigger warnings), or when we do look we find it almost unrealistic, video game like, in an attempt of our minds to distance ourselves from what we’re seeing, going numb to the problem, because tomorrow something else will be on fire or under water anyway. Both reactions prevent us from taking the time and effort to consider what is really going on and to understand the long-term impact these disasters have, to question how we got here in the first place or where to go from here.
This is precisely where Katrin Koenning (@k_koenning) takes another course. Her images show the after effects of the 2009 Black Friday fires at Lake Mountain, Victoria. She documented an area that ten years later still struggles to regenerate, having been damaged by the fires to such a degree that it will never be the same again. Because she returns to the place time and time again, this is not a collection of snapshots giving a superficial idea of the destruction that has happened to the place. It is a continuing dialogue between human and nature, showing the pain it is in, asking us to feel that pain and understand that we are at least indirectly - if not directly- responsible for it. As such we need to acknowledge it is up to us as well to help it recover. However, this is not done through blame, but a profound feeling of sadness, asking the viewer to do the work reading the image and get to this conclusion themselves rather than telling them how to feel. Some may say they have an apocalyptic quality to them as well, but where the sheer number of images distributed by the media makes the mind blur it all into one vague idea of red and black, fire, death, and a lot of drama, Katrin’s images require a stillness of mind to be appreciated and understood.