Akessa stares straight ahead with a look of fierce indignation. The 15-year-old is sitting in a rickety chair. Her hand are clasped in her lap. Her white skirt is billowing ever so slightly in what, at first glance, you might assume is the wind…
The scene seems nearly normal until more details come into focus: The background is an eerie shade of blue you wouldn’t see on land. thousands of broken shards of coral cover the ground. And a reef looms behind her.
There is no breeze blowing here.
This girl and her searing gaze are underwater.
The stunning portrait is one in a series of images in “SINK | RISE,” the latest project from fine art photographer Nick Brandt. The photos feature South Pacific islanders representing people who are on the brink of losing their homes, lands and livelihoods due to climate change. And despite the difficulty of photographing them on the ocean floor, Brandt knew that’s what he had to do.
The dramatic and devastating impact sea level rise will have on the lives of millions of people can be difficult to see and grasp in real time, so he says. So Brandt came up with a way to show it symbolically.
“Somebody said it was quite post-apocalyptic. And I said, ‘no, it’s pre-apocalyptic.’ Because it hasn’t actually happened to these people yet,” Brandt says.
And that, he says, in part of the point.
Akessa and the other coastal residents of Fiji he photographed for this project haven’t seen the world they know sink underwater – yet. But many of them will, he says if climate change continues at its staggering pace and water levels keep rising.
Pacific islands like these contribute only .03% of global greenhouse gas emissions, Brandt says, but they’re facing the alarming prospect of losing everything to climate change anyway.
“They’re the most vulnerable t the consequences of the industrial world’s ways,” Brandt says.
The photographer is wary of ascribing a message to his creative work. He knows viewers will have their own interpretations.
But he hopes these photos, portraying what he fears will happen in the future, help others see the devastating impact of their actions in the present…
SINK / RISE is the third chapter of The Day May Break, an ongoing global series by Nick Brandt portraying people and animals that have been impacted by environmental degradation and destruction. This third chapter focuses on South Pacific Islanders impacted by rising oceans from climate change. The local people in these photos, photographed underwater in the ocean off the coast of the Fijian islands, are local representatives of the many people whose homes, land and livelihoods will be lost in the coming decades as the water rises. Everything is shot in camera underwater.