Sean Gallagher visualises the vastness of the climate crisis

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Named moving image winner of the inaugural Decade of Change award, Gallagher’s movie Cambodia Burning examines the particular ravaging effects of deforestation and forest fires in Cambodia

“The climate crisis and the global biodiversity extinction crisis are two issues that will define how humanity will certainly live for centuries to come, ” says Beijing-based filmmaker Sean Gallagher. “That’s why I decided early on in my career that I wanted to dedicate my work to these issues — and use photography plus film to help people better understand the realities of our quickly changing world. ” 

Gallagher was recently named shifting image winner of 1854 and BJP ’s Decade associated with Change award. Produced in collaboration with the Pulitzer Center on Problems Reporting, his film Cambodia Burning examines the ravaging effects of deforestation and woodland fires in Cambodia. “I was inspired to cover this story after reading an article published by NASA, confirming how the yearly fires of South East Asia had been visible from space — with Cambodia seeing the biggest number of them, ” says Gallagher. “I knew instantly that this would make for a visually interesting story. ”

Narrated by a local poet who explores the particular emotional impact of the fires upon the Cambodian people, Cambodia Burning is photo entirely via drone. In the sky, Gallagher is able to palpably visualise the vast and overwhelming reality of a weather crisis many of us struggle to understand from the ground. “I thought it was the best way to communicate the scale of the changes taking place to the country’s forests, ” he explains. It also enabled him to access “off-limits” places such as logging yards plus plantations; places which typically remain hidden from public view due to the industry’s secrecy in concealing the degree of their work.  

Gallagher points out that in latest centuries, both Europe and North America have cleared nearly all their forests in the name of advancement. Now, he says, Asia is usually following suit. For him, making Cambodia Burning was an attempt to inspire audiences to reflect on the effects these types of situations will ultimately possess on all of us. Right now, he hopes it will function as a wake-up call. But in the future, it is sure to serve as a kind of proof, too, exposing the damage performed by generations past.

Joanna Cresswell

Joanna L. Cresswell is an author and editor based in Brighton. She has written on picture taking and culture for over 40 international magazines and publications, and held positions since editor for organisations such as the Photographers’ Gallery, Unseen Amsterdam and Self Publish, Be Happy. She recently finished an MA in comparison literature and criticism on Goldsmiths College, University associated with London

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