At first glance the work of photographer and environmentalist J Henry Fair could easily be mistaken for abstract expressionist paintings. Upon learning the tragic reality behind these mesmerising images though, our sense of awe gets infused with concern and horror, as they reveal the staggering impact of human pollution on our planet.

Although somewhat difficult to recognise we are in fact looking at aerial photographs of industrial landscapes shot from a small airplane. They capture vivid patterns and iridescent colours created by toxic waste, from thick oil spills to dirty coal mining. Fair says he seeks to combine horror and beauty. ‘What I see in these scarred landscapes is both beauty and the complete disregard for nature.’

Fair has been documenting industrial production in aerial photos for roughly twenty years. He compiled some of the most beautifully horrifying depictions of these environmental nightmares into his latest book Industrial Scars, following his first publication The Day After Tomorrow: Images Of Our Earth In Crisis.

Captivating and disturbing

For Industrial Scars Fair worked together with Bill McKibben of, writer Lewis Smith and industrial historian Matt Kierstead to provide in-depth explanations next to the photographs, describing in detail the development of each industry through time and across the world.

Captivating and disturbing at the same time, the images make for powerful means to grab our attention and confront us with the environmental impact of our everyday consumption. ‘What we buy doesn’t come with information about the hidden costs: the air that is fouled, the water contaminated, the habitat destroyed, or the workers exploited. But these are real costs that must inevitably be paid, a burden that ultimately falls on all of us. I’m hoping that the pictures will make people stop and ask a question: What is that? If I create this abstract expressionist image, which is arresting, then I can hopefully make people consider it.’

Fair’s work is an excellent example of how the creative community can contribute to help raise awareness regarding climate change, an urgent and therefore chosen theme for the next WDCD challenge: The Climate Action Challenge.


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