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Humanity’s footprint: Monroe Gallery photography exhibit “Life On Earth” a survey of environmental and climate issues

“Greta Thunberg’s first school strike for climate outside the Swedish Parliament, 2018,” by Adam Karis Johansson. (Courtesy of The Monroe Gallery)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — As the pandemic churns across the planet, air pollution levels have plunged dramatically.

Smog dissipates and the Venice canals resemble liquid silver thanks to the city’s lockdown.

This temporary shift shows society can make a difference in creating a healthier world.

Open at Santa Fe’s Monroe Gallery at monroegallery.com, “Life On Earth” is a survey of environmental and climate issues documented by photojournalists.

“A church flooded by Hurricane Florence stands silently in its reflection in Burgaw, North Carolina, 2018,” by Ryan Vizzions. (Courtesy of The Monroe Gallery)

The images range from buildings drowned by hurricanes to climate activist Greta Thunberg sitting alone in front of Sweden’s parliament.

“We are at a point where we could reverse some of the effects,” gallery co-owner Sidney Monroe said. “There’s a story to be told in photographs of what we do as humans to the earth.”

Photographer Ryan Vizzions’ photograph of a flooded North Carolina church standing in its own reflection documents the impact of Hurricane Florence in 2018.

Vizzions spotted the church while he was volunteering with an animal rescue group, Monroe said.

“It’s such a perfect reflection,” he said of the 60-by-40-inch print. “It almost feels like you’re there. It’s a very good example of the power of photography to tell that story.”

Ashley Gilbertson’s portrait of a pair of Wehea tribal members checking their cell phones during an Indonesian ceremony ushers traditional practices into the present.

“There’s these massive clearings of the rain forest to make way to grow palm for palm oil,” Monroe said.

“Dayaks from the Wehea tribe participate in a warrior initiation ceremony in Weheau, East Kalamantan, Indonesia, 2018,” by Ashley Gilbertson. The ceremony, known as a “Nemlen,” was last performed 15 years ago marking the passage of boys and men who have passed a series of tests to become warriors.

The practice has led to widespread deforestation in Indonesia. The men are participating in a warrior initiation rite to show both the government and the large palm oil companies the Wehea people are prepared for war.

“It’s a perfect collision of the old world and the new world,” Monroe said. “It has a beautiful quality until you see the stumps of the trees.”

The filthy Ukranian coal miners in the late Shepard Sherbell’s photograph also show the cost of humanity’s footprint.

Sherbell photographed across the industrial and mining regions of the former Soviet Union as it broke apart in the 1990s.

“You get a glimpse of how dirty the job and the product is,” Monroe said. “They were documenting the heroism and the strength of these workers. We were doing this without any sense of the effect on the environment.”

“Zhdanovskaya Coal Miners, Ukraine, 1992” by Shepard Sherbell.

In 2016, Nina Berman photographed Uranium Remembrance Day at Church Rock on the Navajo Nation. The largest nuclear catastrophe in U.S. History occurred in 1979 when the dam at the United Nuclear Corporation’s uranium mill tailings disposal pond broke, sending more than 1,000 tons of solid radioactive mill waste and 93 million gallons of acidic radioactive tailings solution into the Puerco River, contaminating Navajo land. The cleanup is still ongoing. The mining ended, but there are calls to revive it.

Nina Berman’s “Church Rock, New Mexico, 2016, Uranium Remembrance Day.” Residents from Navajo communities and elsewhere call for an end to uranium mining.

Church Rock residents march to the site to honor all those who died or were sickened by the results to demand a thorough clean-up and compensation.

“There was a lot of uranium mining on Navajo land,” Monroe said. “Again, it was thought this was a great economic boost. But there was this great pool of radioactive water that burst through.

“The ‘Water Is Life’ banner became such a standout at the Standing Rock protest,” he continued. “Again, it’s the conflict between the desire for energy and very little regard for the people who have to live with these things.”

Vizzions’ 2016 “Defend the Sacred, Standing Rock” contrasts a single Native American on horseback against an army of tanks and law enforcement. The protests against the Dakota Access pipeline became a rallying cry for indigenous rights. The tribes considered the pipeline a threat to the region’s drinking water.

“Defend the Sacred, Standing Rock Cannonball, North Dakota, 2016,” by Ryan Vizzions.

“This is the effect of our footprint on the land,” Monroe said. “It’s not an exhibit about disaster,” he added. “There’s a lot of beauty.”

The exhibit will hang through Sept. 13.

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