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

Nigeria Incumbent in Tight Spot as Poll Nears

Muhammadu Buhari is running a strong challenge to Goodluck Jonathan, amid a faltering economy and Boko Haram security worries More

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo tells VOA that despite her fame, life is still a struggle as she waits for government's promise of support to arrive More

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

At least seven different indigenous groups in Ratanakiri depend mainly on forest products for their survival, say they face loss of their land, traditional way of life More

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.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More