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Dream to heal glaciers: Ciril Jazbec's visual take on community and the climate crisis

The documentary photographer Ciril Jazbec has embraced the value of nature to talk about the rising adversity around climate change in his photographic art practice.

by Dilpreet BhullarPublished on : Jun 01, 2023

Born in Slovenia, the documentary photographer Ciril Jazbec has embraced nature and its value since his formative years. Working as a contributing photographer for National Geographic Magazine since 2014, Jazbec places the variable changes in the climate equal to human feelings—be they comforting or harsh. The contrast in the climate reverberates with the upheaval of emotions experienced by humans in dire situations. Kernel to his practice is his proclivity to gauge how the interest in modern developments and economic mobility as the traditional way of life, endorsed by the local communities, compromised. It is also imperative to ask how the traditional communities see themselves in the modern world. The photographs produced are closely knitted stories that carry inspiration for the communities to lead a life with “gratitude, solidarity and respect”. But the crucial question is, to search for feasible solutions where a hope to anchor a promising world of just is not lost. 

Bhutan, 2016, Photograph | Ciril Jazbec | Dream to Heal Glaciers | STIRworld
Bhutan, 2016, Photograph Image: © Ciril Jazbec

In the past, Jazbec admits, that he has “jumped from project to project." But now he wants to invest in long-term stories, which open the scope for challenges and experimentation. Over the past decade, his focus has been on capturing the human impact of climate change and how it affects communities at the forefront of this crisis. In an interview with STIR, Jazbec mentions, “Recently, I have been involved in an exciting project called Dream to Heal Glaciers, which is a three-chapter multimedia project highlighting global glacial melt and the resilience of mountain communities in the Himalayas, Alps, and the Andes. Through this project, I document inspiring efforts to combat climate change in these regions. My work often takes me to areas where the ice is rapidly melting away, including glaciers and sea ice.” 

The climate crisis is gradually deteriorating the Alpine glaciers. Since the 1980s the snow cover of the Alps are on the path of reduction. This change is witnessed by the studies done by institutions in Switzerland, France, Austria, Italy and Germany. Jazbec’s website reports, “From 1960 to 2017, the Alpine snow season shortened by 38 days—starting an average of 12 days later and ending 26 days earlier than normal. Europe experienced its warmest-ever winter in 2015–16, with snow cover in the southern French Alps at just 20 per cent of its typical depth.” 

Cinema on Ice, 2014| Ciril Jazbec | Dream to Heal Glaciers | STIRworld
Cinema on Ice, 2014, Photograph Image: © Ciril Jazbec

Jazbec is acutely following the studies done by the glaciologists and institutes dedicated to saving the Alps range. Technological methods and regional ways have played a significant role in shortening the process of decay. To give an instance, Jazbec has been following the work done by Dr Felix Keller, one of the founders of the Mortalive project. The innovative programme supported by Innosuisse, a Swiss Innovation Agency, deploys the technique of a snow cabling system to create snowfall on the Morteratsch. Moreover, the ski resorts in the Alps have promulgated snow-farming techniques. As a part of the project, they cover the snow as the last season arrives with fleeces—the process allows them to preserve the snow for summer. 

Ciril Jazbec Portrait | Ciril Jazbec | Dream to Heal Glaciers | STIRworld
Artist Ciril Jazbec Image: Courtesy of Benedict Evans

Jazbec has also documented the flourishing beauty of nature. The nation of Bhutan has been celebrated to have the highest Gross National Happiness but this does not contribute to the survival of the country. In the face of the pressing Gross Domestic Product – overpowers production with consumption – the glaciers in Bhutan have been melting. It serves as the source of water and electricity in the nation. In terms of the difference between the photography experience in the Alps and Bhutan, Jazbec does not resist admitting that it marks contrasting experiences. Climbing mountains higher than 6,000 m has been forbidden in Bhutan since 1994 out of respect for local spiritual beliefs. The Bhutanese people have a unique way of life, they care for nature and carefully preserve the environment. 

Saving the Alps, 2020 | Ciril Jazbec | Dream to Heal Glaciers | STIRworld
Saving the Alps, 2020, Photograph Image: © Ciril Jazbec

“My photography project in Bhutan focused on exploring this aspect of their culture. In contrast, the highly populated Alps are under immense pressure from tourism, with scientists working to save glaciers and the tourism industry trying to save itself. My project in the Alps focused on the theme of saving winter,” admits Jazbec. Both experiences provided unique insights into vastly different cultures and their relationships with the natural world. 

The series Cinema on Ice was produced on a night of serendipity when Jazbec with his friends and locals on the cuff decided to do a screening of Inuk on an iceberg for special children of the village. Jazbec elaborates, “This unforgettable moment was made possible during my extensive project in Greenland, where I worked for over seven months and witnessed the Inuit people's struggle to adapt to the rapidly changing Arctic climate. Under the canopy of stars and the northern lights in Northern Greenland, the event sparked curiosity and awe in the eyes of the spectators. The moment was meant to be documented which resulted in the work Cinema on Ice. Against the backdrop of the northern lights and a clear night sky, the illuminated faces of the viewers remind us of our shared humanity and interconnectedness across the world.” This series highlights the beauty of nature and the magic of cinema uniquely and breathtakingly. 

Saving the Alps, 2020 | Ciril Jazbec | Dream to Heal Glaciers | STIRworld
Saving the Alps, 2020, Photograph Image: © Ciril Jazbec

The photographs aim to capture the essence of a rapidly changing world, shedding light on its most pressing challenges, while also offering viable solutions. “Exhibited in publications and multimedia platforms, including photography and film, my art aims to inspire and empower viewers to create positive change in their lives and communities. By harnessing the power of visual storytelling, I seek to leave a lasting impact on audiences, sparking a chain reaction of inspiration and empowerment,” says Jazbec. 

His film Saving Glaciers will feature at the Banff Centre Mountain Film Festival 2022-2023 World Tour. The Paris at Visage(s) d'Europe 2023 will exhibit his photographs in the city centre of Paris in mid-May 2023. Further, the series The Ice Stupas will be displayed at the Lumen Museum show in the Falkensteiner Hotel in Kronplatz, Italy. 

Saving Glaciers, 2022, Video Video: © Ciril Jazbec

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