Melting ice caps. Rising seas. Eroding coral reefs. Vast plastic gyres in the oceans. Beached whales and seals and penguins. Vanishing marine populations. Rapid declines and die-offs of saltwater and freshwater ecosystems. Disastrous offshore oil spills. Poisoned rivers and aquifers. Polluted reservoirs. Hurricanes and tsunamis. Droughts and wildfires. Global warming. Climate change...
We may come to think of the 21st century as the century of water, in which for the first time we understand water as not only a force of nature but a force of culture as well. While some of the water-related crises we face now and foresee in the immediate future result from conditions beyond human control, most have arrived as a direct consequence of social, economic, and political choices made as far back as the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and as recently as last year.
Because they will live longest under these rapidly worsening conditions, those we call "millennials" -- born in the last decade of the 20th century and the years since -- will experience this ecological emergency differently than those who came before them. They come of age at or even after the crises have reached a cumulative tipping point, commencing a perhaps irreversible slide toward catastrophe.
Invited to respond photographically to the theme of water, the young students participating in this timely project address it in purely personal terms. Their visions, expressed in triptychs, share, with few exceptions, an idyllic attitude: water as a symbol of nature and of purity, a locus for play and meditation, eternal, unchanging. Surely this reflects their life experiences in the Nordic countries. For the most part, they take delight in water, and convey that joy to us eloquently through their pictures.
And that should give us cause for hope. Not only because they bring their fresh, unjaded points of view to the subject, but because, having experienced the unalloyed, wholesome pleasures traditionally associated with a healthy abundance of this essential liquid, they will have all the more reason to join the fight already underway to preserve this precious resource for themselves and the generations to follow.
Stabilizing the world's water supplies, reversing the degradation thereof, and ensuring that all living beings have the uncontaminated water they need to survive and thrive already looms as one of the great battles of their time. These pictures show that, as budding photographers and, more importantly, as citizens of the world, these students know what they stand to lose if they -- if we all -- fail to turn the tide.
Based in New York, A. D. Coleman currently celebrates his 50th year as a critic, historian, and theorist of photography and photo-based art. His blog, Photocritic International, appears online at photocritic.com.
© Copyright 2018 by A. D. Coleman. All rights reserved. By permission of the author and Image/World Syndication Services, firstname.lastname@example.org.