I had the pleasure of reading LAUDATO SI' a short time ago, the encyclical of Pope Francis occasioned by the threat of climate change to what Francis refers to "our common home", the Earth, home to all humanity and all that lives on the Earth. This encyclical quite frankly expresses the philosophy, theology and morality that inspired me and hence my photography for over 50 years. While climate change prompted Francis to address this issue his scope goes far beyond just that, indeed it addresses a morally based use and treatment of the resources given to the custody of man to be accessible to all. While this dialogue has been part of our debate for many years I don't think anyone has put forth his thinking in quite such succinct and elegant terms. So what does this have to do with photography?
I think those who photograph the landscape, wildlife, flowers, insects, beautiful works of man, portraits, etc., will instantly make the connection. We are celebrating beauty, beauty in nature, beauty in our environment. When that beauty is despoiled our subject matter goes away. Even those who photograph the wreckage we wreak are doing so to make a point, to expose our careless actions and disdain for that entrusted to our care. Photographing beauty is a response back to God, praising Him for what we find good in His creation; photographing wreckage is one way to inform us of our abusive nature.
Man's careless treatment of what I find praise worthy has been a pet peave of mine all my life. We trash our highways with garbage, we clutter our cities with graffiti, we set our forests afire with careless disposal of still burning cigarettes, we pollute our waters in dozens of different ways, and now we are pumping millions of tons of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere on a daily basis. I have even found full scale dumps 30 miles into the backcountry of the Sierra Nevada where horse packers were too lazy to haul out their trash. These included things like rusty cans, bottles, even things as large as stoves. I've often seen old license plates nailed to trees in places that ought to be treated with reverence. The list could go on and on.
Laudato Si' challenges us to a new way of thinking about our "home". No longer do we have the luxury of thinking of our resources as inexhaustible, or that somehow no matter how much abuse we subject it to it will miraculously repair itself. Every day we become more aware of the damage we inflict on our surroundings and the creatures that inhabit our home. Yet there are still those who refuse to acknowledge what they see and refuse to believe the science that tells us our consumerist "throw away" society is not sustainable. It's time for all of us to "own up" to our own responsibility for the care of our environment, and if changes are warranted...make them.