Picturing Extinction

Picturing Extinction

‘Population by Pixel’, courtesy of Yoshiyuki Mikami ©

‘Population by Pixel’, courtesy of Yoshiyuki Mikami ©

By Charlie Breen

We know the facts. We hear them on repeat every day. Flash floods, forest fires, storms and heat. Natural disasters are on the rise to coincide with our increase in population and waste. While all of these problems multiply, the population of every earthly inhabitant that isn’t us plummets. However, despite the desperate reality of the situation, we remain de-sensitized. Constant exposure to the facts has not sparked the immediate change needed en masse. What will make us change? Greta’s speeches? Attenborough’s documentaries? Or more photographs of scrawny polar bears? None of the above can do the job on their own. But the snowball seems to keep rolling. Whether in denial or anguish, everyone is listening now.

A recent photo series published on Imgur showing pixelated images of endangered animals has not only evoked awareness to the plight of mass extinction, but has also brought attention to the 2008 campaign that influenced it, entitled ‘Population by Pixel’, by Japanese artist, Yoshiyuki Mikami. In his series published for WWF, the amount of pixels in the photo match the population of the animal photographed. The more endangered a species is, the more pixelated and unclear the photograph becomes. Yoshiyuki’s six-image collection shows the dire population levels of endangered species. From a photography standpoint, his images leave a lot to be desired. There is no action to be seen, lighting to be viewed or emotion to be felt. Despite this, they are informative and scary. The animals are almost unrecognizable as blocks of color, and each image is accompanied with the number left in their population.

‘Population by Pixel’, courtesy of Yoshiyuki Mikami ©

‘Population by Pixel’, courtesy of Yoshiyuki Mikami ©

‘Laid Back’ by Thomas Mangelsen ©. Courtesy of Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards.

‘Laid Back’ by Thomas Mangelsen ©. Courtesy of Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards.

Although these harrowing images bring vital awareness to the mass extinction of nature’s animal species, it is difficult to put them into the category of wildlife photography. Plenty of organizations and photographers capture nature and animals in varyingly spectacular fashions to offer everyday glimpses into what goes on outside of our own human world. The recent British Wildlife Photography Awards and Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards (whose new book is available here), for example, showcase a skill required to capture animals in their habitats and entice a sense of wonder in the viewer through a picturesque, romantic, and mostly positive viewpoint. This may raise awareness and remind us of how beautiful the natural world is. But do such images instigate the panic needed for action?

‘Is It A Bird Is It A Plane’ by Bob Carter ©. Courtesy of Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards.

‘Is It A Bird Is It A Plane’ by Bob Carter ©. Courtesy of Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards.

While professional and artistic photography allows us to view nature to its fullest, without appropriate action this could ultimately end up being our best and only way of preserving it. These days it seems that the more jarring, shocking or un-romantic an image is, the more a need for change is felt by the viewer. Wildlife photography can do wonders for bringing funding and attention to animal conservation. In these troubling times no single medium can bring about action from the public on its own. Whether we are viewing pixelated images that tell us the population of the giant panda, photographs of foxes dancing or rhinos in a neutral backdrop, exposure to such images can be the constant reminder we need - be it in a positive or negative light. When it comes to the environment there’s no such thing as bad over exposure.

‘Waltz Gone Wrong’ by Alistair Marsh ©. Courtesy of Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards.

‘Waltz Gone Wrong’ by Alistair Marsh ©. Courtesy of Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards.

‘Population by Pixel’, courtesy of Yoshiyuki Mikami ©

‘Population by Pixel’, courtesy of Yoshiyuki Mikami ©





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