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Michael Premo presenting at a Magnum Photos panel discussion

Michael Premo speaks at a Magnum Photo panel discussion. Photo credit: Mengwen Cao

Climate Visuals connects with the Magnum Foundation in New York

September 26 2018

Adam Corner

Simone Salvo presenting at a Magnum Photos panel discussion

Simone Salvo speaks at a Magnum Photo panel discussion. Photo credit: Mengwen Cao

The Magnum name is one that resonates around the world: the respected photo agency is a source of consistently incredible imagery on a whole range of topics, including climate change. Earlier this week, we announced a Climate Visuals collaboration with Magnum Photos, adding a set of 100 new images to the Climate Visuals library. Whilst in New York we also connected with Magnum Foundation for a lively panel discussion - the Magnum Foundation is a non-profit organisation which was founded by the Magnum Photos membership to expand creativity and diversity in the field. 

With contributions from Magnum Foundation’s Simone Salvo, the activist and artist Michael Premo, and Climate Visuals’ Adam Corner, the event explored the challenge of authentically capturing climate change on camera, and communicating climate messages through visual campaigns and films, with conversation focusing on the Climate Visuals research, the #reframeclimate initiative led by Magnum Foundation, and Michael Premo’s visual storytelling projects (such as Water Warriors and the film adaptation of Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything).  

The event was titled Beyond Melting Ice and Solar Panels: Capturing The Human Stories of a Changing Climate, and there were some core themes that the speakers and the audience kept returning to.

Adam Corner presenting at a Magnum Photos panel discussion

Adam Corner speaks at a Magnum Photo panel discussion. Photo credit: Mengwen Cao

Firstly, how can emotionally powerful images of climate impacts - now indisputably with us - be sensitively and credibly used to convey the urgency of the climate challenge, without overwhelming people and turning them away? Simone Salvo argued that photographers and campaigners need to give their audiences more credit and be prepared to make their images more nuanced and sophisticated. One audience member questioned whether public audiences have the ‘visual literacy’ for this - but the Climate Visuals research suggests they do, with people consistently preferring images that were multi-layered, and not emotionally ‘transactional’.

Michael Premo presenting at a Magnum Photos panel discussion

Michael Premo speaks at a Magnum Photo panel discussion. Photo credit: Mengwen Cao

Another central discussion was around how to portray public protests on climate change in a way that tells an inclusive story (i.e. doesn’t convey the idea that climate change is just for ‘environmentalists’ to care about). Michael Premo showed some vivid examples of stills and video capturing anti-fracking communities. The conviction and passion of the activists was visually incredibly powerful, standing in stark contrast to the kinds of ‘staged’ protest imagery that many NGOs continue to prefer, and which our Climate Visuals research has found to attract cynicism and disdain.

What was clear was that there’s an acknowledgment and an appetite among creatives, activists and communicators for a new visual language on climate change that breaks away from the tired cliches of melting ice and smoke stacks, and positions climate change visually exactly where it should be: as the biggest human story of the 21st century.