In February of 2022, the Pulitzer Center and Indigenous Photograph hosted an open call for Indigenous photographers to submit their work on climate change. Over the course of a month, we received over 90 applications from 24 countries. Our goal in conducting this photo call was to further connect with Indigenous photographers from around the world, in hopes of strengthening our relationship with those on the frontlines of climate change. These photos were also shown at the Coal+Ice exhibit in Washington, D.C., in a night celebrating how we tell stories about our environment.
The selected images illuminate how vastly different climate change presents itself regionally. While photography can be a tool for observational storytelling, it can also serve as an act of individual resilience and highlight the unique bonds of a community. This collection of work illustrates the interconnectivity of Indigenous identity, the land, and the climate crisis. Photography can be most powerful when communities capture their own experience. We can more deeply understand the connection between Indigenous communities and the environment through the intimate lens of insiders who possess the lived experience.
We hope you’ll take time to both read their words about what their work means to them and ponder what the photographs tell us about our world. Many of these photographs reflect larger global problems that we’ll continue to deal with as humanity confronts the consequences of climate change.
“My work reflects themes of loss, the bittersweet joy within, and the strength of community during the years 2020 and 2021, which were extremely difficult times as we faced the pandemic and climate catastrophes, including floods and fires, and a sudden increase in extractivism leading to oil and mining contamination of rivers. This work was taken in my own community and in local protests in nearby Amazonian towns in solidarity with Indigenous peoples of various nations and the land we are all connected to. I hope to inspire and evoke empathy, compassion, reflection, and action within those who come across these photos.”
“This work is related to the disposal of tailings (chemical-laden sludge) in Mimika Regency in Indonesia by mining companies. One company built a levee along the riverside that has changed the forest landscape as well as the life of the Kamoro tribes, the Indigenous Papuan community who live in this area. A number of rivers, as a source of food and culture, died because they were closed by levees. Tailings contain hazardous materials such as copper, arsenic, cadmium, and selenium that cause the ecosystem in the area to change.”
“Charcoal production is causing massive deforestation in Nigeria, and my desire is to bring attention to this issue so that people can be enlightened enough to stop this act that is causing loss of biodiversity and extreme climate change. Due to charcoal production in most parts of the country, the soil is losing its quality and the wildlife is becoming endangered. Indigenous people are tricked into non-sustainable ventures to cut these trees (both mature and immature) to produce charcoal. I hope to continue shining a light on this aspect of deforestation.”
“This work is part of everyday life in the villages and also of the Indigenous movement in Brazil. The objective of which is the struggle to guarantee rights historically usurped by the State, prioritizing the defense of territories, waters, forests, animals, and culture, as this is also what defines us as Indigenous peoples.”
“My photographs display how deeply the Indigenous peoples are connected to nature—our way of life and survival. They demonstrate what we do daily to preserve nature and keep the forest standing. They showcase the daily struggle of Indigenous groups for the wellbeing of Mother Earth, which is the struggle of all struggles. We are the true guardians of this planet.”
“In the darkness, sensory cohesion courses through every part of my body, micro-tremors disrupting, contorting the emotion of isolation in a space of embodiment. Light pervades, emotions demystified as the subconscious mind reveals the temporality of exclusion and solitude from Mother Earth. In Aboriginal culture, each person is designated a particular role in the tribal system—a healer, leader, hunter or, in my case, a storyteller. This role is to document and share culture as the Elders have instructed. This work explores the often perceived but not seen realms of Mother Nature and how our peoples are connected spiritually. My work points to the moral imperative for humanity to recognize the continuity of our role as guardians of the land.”
“My images tell the Nigerian climate change story. It's personal to me as an individual and as a photographer. Like every other country, Nigeria is being affected by climate change. These images are part of a documentary to tell our own peculiar issues regarding climate change.”
“My work focuses on issues important to Indigenous communities in Northern Canada, including climate change and the relationship between land and identity. The photos show how life in these communities is altered due to climate change, namely how it impacts access to land, wildlife (food), and important connections to traditional ways of life.”
“These images represent the power of Indigenous agency in uniting their communities and non-Native people to stand up and protect the environment from fossil fuel corporations’ contributions to climate change. Indigenous peoples are countering the corporate-driven worldview that assigns only monetary worth to the earth’s resources, ignoring the inseparable physical and spiritual ties mankind has with the planet.”
“I began documenting climate change in Alaska in 2007.”
“My goal is to show the human cost of the fires, wind storms, and other ecological challenges we are facing. I start this photo essay with a burned out clearing in the woods, as a reminder of what we are losing. I end with a view of the clouds of smoke that hang over our villages, as a reminder of what the future holds for our children if we do not take action.”
For the Blackfeet people of Southern Piegan, Montana, two of the most important aspects of traditional ceremonies are berries and waterfowl. Warmer, shorter winters accompanied by longer and dryer summers have caused berries not to ripen and grow a fungus that makes them unusable for the ceremony, whilst some trees stopped producing berries entirely. What was once a thriving resource close to home now requires traveling over an hour to mountain areas to gather the berries needed. Without the berries, the ceremonies can't be performed. A loss of the berries would mean a loss of the ceremony and eventually a loss of the people. Geese symbolize when it is time to start certain ceremonies for the spring.
“I was 16 years old in August 2010 when unprecedented flash floods occurred in Leh, Ladakh, India, causing hundreds of deaths. The 2010 winter felt different when the snow level had reduced to a footprint and the barrenness of mountains in April had become alarmingly visible. These photographs are an attempt to show the world what Gyan Chandra Acharya said about how ‘it is the most vulnerable contributing the least to this climate crisis who find themselves on the frontline of its damaging effects.’”
“A lot of people have come to understand and appreciate photography as an incredible tool to promote various causes—and climate change should not be exempted. My work explores the impact of environmental issues, including climate change in local parlance. Many have heard of climate change but don’t know the great impact it's having already and that they are adapting in some ways. I am using photography to spotlight key environmental issues and how people are affected—and to call the attention of governments, NGOs, civil society, and the public in general, to issues of climate change.”
“Living in the mountainous regions of Pakistan, the Wakhi community experiences several climate change consequences such as floods, landslides, and temperature changes, which make it harder for them to survive. The locals are forced to collect water from rivers and nearby ice holes to drink and fulfill their household needs as major water scarcity hits the valley. Everyday, members of every household, especially women, walk for miles in harsh weather conditions to reach the river to collect water and carry it back home.”
“I want to represent how climate change is impacting the lives of the Indigenous Himalayan pastoralist communities in my hometown of Dolpo, Nepal, where every summer and winter they migrate from one place to another. But today, this lifestyle is affected as winters are getting warmer and pastures are decreasing, impacting the herding lifestyle and food security.”
“This project focuses on the shriveling Rio Grande River in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a river that tribal and Pueblo nations are fighting to have more say over state and local water management. Pueblo and tribal nations have ‘prior and paramount’ water rights to state water supplies, yet it takes decades for them to implement their rights and fully access their share of water. Indigenous water rights are shaped by centuries-old colonial laws, which have locked tribes in a water regime that has shut them out of water management decisions.”
“I approach the images of icebergs as portraits of individuals, much like family photos of my ancestors. I was raised to know my interconnection and inter-relation to all life on earth. I have chosen to introduce you to icebergs that are melted away and a few that still linger. The water of these icebergs is the water of our ancestors.”
Our partner Indigenous Photograph is a space to elevate the work of Indigenous visual journalists and bring balance to the way we tell stories about Indigenous people and spaces. Their mission is to support the media industry in hiring more Indigenous photographers to tell the stories of their communities and to reflect on how we tell these stories.
Their global database is available to photo editors, creative directors, and those who routinely hire photographers. Please reach out for a complete electronic database of their members, which includes detailed information regarding geographical areas of expertise, languages spoken, and contact information.
Leilani Rania Ganser