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

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Russia’s Prosecutor General to Review Legality of Baltics Independence

Move, announced Tuesday, has alarmed Baltic States and strained even further their increasingly tense ties with Moscow More

US Urged to Keep Up Pressure on Cuba Rights

Communist government continues to hold dozens of political prisoners, tightly restricts freedom of expression, uses threats, intimidation to discourage critics, according to activist groups 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.
Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Interneti
X
Mike O'Sullivan
June 30, 2015 8:20 PM
Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.

VOA Blogs