Mark Edwards Hard Rain Project interview
- Sep 28, 2011
Mark Edwards is a leading environmental photographer who is the creator of the Hard Rain Project. We caught up with Mark to ask him about the new exhibition: What’ll You Do Now.
How did the Hard Rain exhibition first come about?
I got lost on the edge of the Sahara desert. A Tuareg nomad found me and took me to his people. He goes into a tiny hut and reappears with two sticks and an old cassette player. He rubs the sticks together and made a fire – we had a nice cup of tea, then he turned the cassette player on and Bob Dylan sings 'A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall': “sad forests”, “dead oceans”, “where the people are many and their hands are all empty”. As Dylan piles image upon image, I have the idea to illustrate each line of the song. In the years that follow, I travel around the world on assignments that allow me to take the photographs that turn Dylan’s prophetic words into images of the real world. Thirty years later Tim Smith, at the Eden project, put it on as a big outdoor exhibition. Then people requested it all over the world.
What does the new exhibition show?
The new exhibition shows solutions to the problems highlighted in Hard Rain. The opening section shows the many links among challenges that are often considered in isolation: for example, poverty and forest loss, energy and water and how all of these issues are linked to climate change. The second part presents proven solutions from countries around the world – technologies, development projects, and lifestyle approaches that need to be scaled up and widely adopted if we are to create a sustainable civilization.
The combined exhibition is designed to renew the ambitions for change in a large cross-section of the public and encourage political and business leaders to take bold, long-term decisions to secure our gains and avoid disasters that appear increasingly imminent.
How have people received the exhibition so far?
It’s been at Kew Gardens all summer. I was worried we had too many words (in the new display) but visitors take time to read it and think about it. It shows how we can align human systems with natural systems. But we make the point that we all have to show support to bolster governments resolve to act in favour of the future. I hope people will become active campaigners after they see it!
Where is it moving to next?
The launch edition is at Kew until the end of October. Then to the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens next April; Rio and London in June for the UN Earth Summit. The Swedish government is taking the exhibition to every city in Sweden and we are taking it to every university in the UK.
The image above shows one of the photographs featured in the exhibition, could explain what it represents?
It was taken in Mexico City. These are the neighborhoods where the transition from poverty occurs, where the next middle class is forged, where the next generation’s dreams, movements and governments are created. It’s where large agrarian families give way to small urban ones, putting an end to the major theme of human history, continuous population growth. These are the places where the next great cultural boom will be born, or where the next great explosion of violence will occur. The difference depends on our ability to notice, and our willingness to engage.
You have said previously that “solutions are controversial”. What do you mean by that?
Yes, we can mostly agree on the problems but solutions divide the environmental movement. Do we go for nuclear power to generate low carbon electricity or really invest in renewables? There’s a report by PWC that shows that Europe could generate all its electricity from renewables by 2050. My feeling is that nuclear is a distraction. It stops us doing what we all know we need to do – invest urgently in renewables.
There is a section in the new exhibition that focuses on British-led design and British-led solutions. What was the reasoning behind that?
We show solutions developed in each country that hosts the exhibition. This way we build up a picture of a sustainable civilization. I hope people will campaign to bring proven solutions they like to their communities.
Who do think has best taken on the challenge to find solutions so far?
Scandinavian countries probably – Winston Churchill said, “if it’s a good idea it came from Sweden”. I think most governments are finding it very difficult to develop sustainably, which is a real tragedy. Our exhibition shows the solutions are out there, but they need more political support if they are to be scaled up. Some companies are making progress, Virgin is lucky to have a founder who is personally committed to the idea of sustainability. Companies however do have to deliver what the shareholders want, so shareholders have a responsibility to speak up.
Do you think part of the problems we face is people’s lack of understanding as to where things come from?
Yes – I do think so. It’s hard to imagine a mahogany table coming from the Amazon, it is hard to connect it with logging in the Amazon. Film and photography can make those connections and show how ecosystems are being damaged. Then it’s up to us to live responsibly. You can’t play the ignorant card if you have seen Hard Rain!!
You have worked with some really fantastic people and organisations on this project, how did some of those collaborations come about and what impact have they had on the project so far?
We have been very, very lucky to have permission to use Bob Dylan’s lyric. Without that, Hard Rain would only have been seen by my friends. We also have been very fortunate to have contributions for the new display from Jonathon Porritt, a long standing friend, and from David Attenborough. We have also had a great deal of support from the Swedish government through their development agency Sida.
What is your favourite line within the song?
I don’t have a favourite line or picture, it is the totality of it that counts.
Is that why the exhibition includes both environmental and social problems?
Yes, absolutely! Hard Rain shows the need to reinvent the modern world so it’s compatible with nature – and human nature.