News / USA

    Time-Lapse Photos Capture Disappearing World

    James Balog explores climate change and vanishing animals, landscapes

    James Balog photographing ice diamonds in Iceland (July 2008)
    James Balog photographing ice diamonds in Iceland (July 2008)

    Multimedia

    Audio
    Rosanne Skirble

    James Balog's extraordinary photographs are a window on the world's endangered wildlife, melting glaciers and disappearing landscapes. The self-taught artist began his craft with a passion for nature. The son of a Wall Street financier and a housewife, Balog grew up in the 1950s wandering about the forests of western New Jersey with his friends.  

    "We'd stay out there for weeks in a little lean-to that we built," he says. 

    James Balog, pictured here in Greenland, has designed, programmed and installed time-lapse cameras on glaciers to record the impact of a warming climate.
    James Balog, pictured here in Greenland, has designed, programmed and installed time-lapse cameras on glaciers to record the impact of a warming climate.

    Bold move

    While a geology student at Boston College, Balog became an avid adventurer, honing his wilderness skills on America's rugged mountains, wild rivers and back country trails. After graduation he continued his education at the University of Colorado in geomorphology, the study of how the land surface evolves over time. When it came time to find a job, he made a bold move.  

    "I had been dabbling in photography as a serious amateur and just this one day decided, okay, that will be a better way for me to express my enthusiasms for nature," he says.  

    Balog worked hard to learn the profession, read a lot and talked to people in the field, "then refining my eye through trial and error practice and getting criticism from whatever editors I could get to meet."  

    A big break in the early 1980s with an article for a major magazine about avalanches gave him his start.  That led to dozens of environment-related news stories and established his reputation as a top-notch nature photographer. "I've had more adventure than I ever could have hoped for or ever could have imagined," he says. 

    For his book 'Tree: A New Vision of the America Forest,' James Balog snapped this picture of a Giant Sequoia while rappelling down from the canopy.
    For his book 'Tree: A New Vision of the America Forest,' James Balog snapped this picture of a Giant Sequoia while rappelling down from the canopy.

    Pursuing his vision

    Success has given Balog the freedom to pursue his own ideas in a half-dozen photography books.  In "Survivors," he focuses on endangered species in captivity, portraying them against sterile white backgrounds.  He poses a mandrill on a stool, an Atlantic Green Sea Turtle belly up on a white cushion and shoots a close-up of a rhino's hind end. Balog says the white backgrounds underscore the animals' endangered status. "Instead of putting them in the habitats that look romantic and beautiful as if Nature's going to go on forever, it actually symbolized the fact that animals are becoming ever more rare because habitat is being destroyed."

    "Tree: A New Vision of the American Forest" is also a book of portraits. Balog says it was the closest he could come to reassembling the country's primeval forests. Roped among these giants, he took pictures while rappelling down from the forest canopy.

    James Balog photographs a rhinoceroses in a stark white background to underscore its endangered status.
    James Balog photographs a rhinoceroses in a stark white background to underscore its endangered status.

    "I would stop at a given place, and I would try to photograph what the tree looked like at that level. And sometimes it would be 10, sometimes 15, 20 shots across that level."  Balog then digitally edited them into dramatic panoramas of trees in profile.  

    Moving picture of climate change

    In his latest project, Balog focuses on melting glaciers. In 2006 he founded the Extreme Ice Survey and serves as its executive director. The nonprofit has deployed 39 cameras on 17 glaciers in Alaska, Greenland, Iceland and the Rocky Mountains that take pictures hourly during daylight hours. What's emerged from the approximately 4,500 photos from every camera each year is a moving picture of climate change.

    The glaciers feeding these icebergs in southeast Iceland have steadily pulled back since the 1930s, leaving an 8-kilometer wide lagoon.
    The glaciers feeding these icebergs in southeast Iceland have steadily pulled back since the 1930s, leaving an 8-kilometer wide lagoon.

    "It's not an abstraction. It's not about a computer model. It's not about statistics. It's not about what might happen in the future," says Balog. "It's right here right now, and you get it when you look at these pictures."  

    EIS supplements this record with annual repeat photography in these locations and in the Alps, British Columbia, Canada, Bolivia and the Himalaya.  

    Balog's lifetime of achievements was honored recently with the 2010 Heinz Award, a prestigious environmental prize. His latest adventure on ice has given him a sense of the fragility of the global environment and why it is urgent to protect it.

    "At some deep elemental level humans understand what it means when ice goes away," Balog says. "And that's what we're recording here. So I want people to take that to heart and understand that climate change is real and they can do something about it."  

    You May Like

    Former US Envoys Urge Obama to Delay Troop Cuts in Afghanistan

    Keeping troop levels up during conflict with both Taliban and Islamic State is necessary to support Kabul government, they say

    First Lady to Visit Africa to Promote Girls' Education

    Michele Obama will be joined by daughters and actresses Meryl Streep and Freida Pinto

    Video NYSE Analyst: Brexit Will Continue to Place Pressure on Markets

    Despite orderly pricing and execution strategy at the New York Stock Exchange, analyst explains added pressure on world financial markets is likely

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora