Earth Days

Iconic photo of the first Earth Day (photo from Smithsonian Magazine)

Iconic photo of the first Earth Day (photo from Smithsonian Magazine)

The above is the most iconic photo of the first Earth Day. Held on April 22, 1970 in New York City, the first Earth Day manifested the emerging environmental consciousness of the US, largely due to the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962. On April 22, 20 million people marched to demonstrate for a sustainable environment. Currently, Earth Day is celebrated in more than 190 countries.

A black-and-white photograph of a man wearing a vintage gas mask and stretching his neck to smell some flowers became iconic of this day. The photographer is unknown; the credit simply read “Associated Press”, and AP identifies the person as a freelancer. In August 2010, Smithsonian Magazine reported his name as Peter Hallerman, then a sophomore at Pace College. Hallerman recalled that he was one of the 30 Pace students who held a demonstration in a park near City Hall. Hallerman wore a gas mask that he once belonged to his mother, Edith, who worked with Red Cross during World War II. The AP photographer told Hallerman to smell the flowers of a magnolia tree with his mask on.

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This historic photograph is still relevant as we reflect on Anthropogenic climate change, and I used it as inspiration. After recreating the original photograph, I expanded it to reflect my current location. Medellin, Colombia is a city of rich history and culture. Once a hotbed of violence, it has emerged over the years as a city of innovation and urban design—a city of “cool”. Among other things, Medellin is known for winning the 2016 Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize and 2013 City of the Year Award, as well as emblematic and permissive graffiti culture, though it hasn’t completely shaken off its violent past. The photographs were taken near the Museo Casa de la Memoria, a museum dedicated to victims of armed conflict in Medellin. The city also faces environmental challenges as it works to modernize itself and in the context of the Anthropocene. These photographs are meant to reflect the city’s character, culture, and contradictions as it projects its identity into the future.

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Title of Work: Earth Days

Deepest thanks to Platohedro and Casa Tres Patios, where I did a residency supported by Arts Collaboratory and the Ministry of Culture of Colombia.

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