The Ecologist Arts Interview: Photographer Deon Reynolds
2nd September, 2016
Marmite. Barry Manilow, Nigel Farage and wind turbines. People either love them or hate them with rarely anyone on the fence. But Deon Reynolds' atmospheric turbine photographs might just buck that trend and persuade even rabid climate deniers to acknowledge their beauty, writes
Usually when someone says something that is not true regarding wind energy, I try and share with them some factual information but they simply repeat what they said before, only louder. At that point I usually quit.
With his Harnessing the Wind portfolio of images that have just been added to Nevada Museum's Center for Art and Environment, fine art photographer Reynolds has meticulously documented the construction of three wind farms in Nevada, California and Texas and captured the beauty of something some of us acknowledge and others abhor.
"I want to open viewers' eyes to the importance of renewable energy, how beautiful it can be and make a positive difference to how people respond to new sources of energy generation," he says.
This photographer's sublime imagery highlights the elegance and apparent simplicity of the structures that soar to 350ft and yet seem dwarfed by the openness of the landscape in which they stand. And he admits to his own feelings of amazement at the engineering feat behind these machines: "I have mixed feelings regarding them being built in pristine untouched landscapes. But the reality of how many people are on this planet and the voracious appetite we all have for energy, made me rethink those utopian ideals. To me, it makes sense to have lots of wilderness areas, but also have land that works for us."
Most wind farms are built on land that has been either tilled, grazed or mined over the years, so humans have already made their mark on the location. For Reynolds' trio, the construction brief was to use the smallest footprint around for each site, and restore the area to its natural state so as to have as little impact as possible on the fragile desert ecosystem.
"I was impressed with the care given during building. Now it looks as though the wind turbines were dropped from the sky with no evidence of disturbing the land,"he adds.
"My photography intentionally makes these places look pristine, but there are mining operations all around. Opponents of wind energy have pointed out that one turbine site is visible from Great Basin National Park and argued that it detracts from the pristine views. I have hiked to many of the peaks in the park and have seen the wind farm from these locations. What the opponents don't point out is that the most obvious thing you see are mining operations that have a devastating impact on the view."
As an assistant to his photographer father, Reynolds travelled in a VW campervan through most of America's open spaces. These road trips ingrained his lifelong appreciation of the natural world. "I love to be immersed in an open pristine landscape - it always make me feel happy!"
This love of the world's wilder corners led Reynolds and his wife Trish to set up home in Eureka, a small remote community 6,500ft in the mountains of the Great Basin Desert. It has one the lowest population densities in the US with just one person for every three square miles.
To produce images that reflect the different moods of the landscapes thought the day and the extraordinary contrasts in weather conditions annually (temperatures range from an icy -18C up to a baking 48C), the couple would often arrive at a site an hour before sunrise to capture the best light and Reynolds would continue shooting until sunset. He then edited the pictures back at Eureka "I usually spend as much time on the computer as I do in the field shooting. Computers are boring, whereas for me, being outdoors in any weather is pure entertainment."
One of the main arguments against wind turbines is the detrimental effect they can have on local wildlife. To counter this, NV Energy and Pattern Energy - the companies behind the turbines which commissioned Reynolds for the project - has installed an observation tower and two doppler radar units to monitor bird and bat movements. They automatically shut down the wind farms if birds or bats are detected.
"Obviously, I would like to see a zero mortality rate. Loss of birds through turbine strikes is low compared to the loss of their numbers by habitat damage in oil fields. I understand avian mortality rates for wind farms are dropping and are far lower than the public perceives due to misinformation,"he says.
"Millions of dollars are spent every year lobbying in support of oil, gas and coal production. Carbon-based energy production is the single most heavily subsidized industry in the USA. Young and educated people are slowly questioning it, but, for the most part I don't see much change in public opinion regarding climate change.
"I find I need to speak up since there is so much misinformation about all forms of renewables, but it's hard. The people where we live are mostly big-time climate deniers. Usually when someone says something that is not true regarding wind energy, I try and share with them some factual information but they simply repeat what they said before, only louder. At that point I usually quit."
Thankfully Reynolds' amazing images are worth a thousand words, even when shouted very loudly. I'm not sure there's anything he can do for Marmite, Barry and Nigel though.
The Arts Interview: Deon Reynolds
Black and white or colour?
This project, colour. But I'm a huge fan of B&W film
Digital or film?
This project, digital. However, I'm finding myself returning to film and Hasselblad cameras.
Top environmental tip?
Photo shoot clothes: multi-pocketed jacket or jeans?
Carhart work jeans with pockets. I don't care for photo vests, I usually wear suitable outdoor hiking, camping type clothing.
Cold wind or still hea?
No such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing.
Studio OCD or organized chaos?
Organized chaos. Our studio is a mix, I stack things on every horizontal surface and Trish tries to make an order, but then I can't find anything...
Our most annoying environmental error?
Sprawl. Cities should become more condensed with green spaces. Keeping the outying areas for agriculture and nature.
Regular breaks or work through?
Work though, with a big break to follow up.
In the studio or out in the wild?
Definitely, In the wild!
Photoshop or un-retouched?
Photoshop with minimal retouching, no manipulations, make the image as close as I can to how I perceived it in the field. In the future I'm looking forward to a traditional wet darkroom, less computer time.
The Harnessing the Wind archive can be explored on the Nevada Museum of Art's finding aids: http://www.nevadaart.org/explore/collections/cae-archive-collections/finding-aids/
Gary Cook is The Ecologist's Arts Editor
Society of Graphic Fine Art: sgfa.org.uk/members/gary-cook/
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