Daniel Beltrá (Spain)
Since childhood, I have been fascinated by nature. To my parents’ dismay, I “saved” whatever I encountered: snakes, mice, toads, baby birds. All entered our home, where—with much patience—my parents explained once again that it was better to release them back outside.
This very early interest in the natural world quickly developed into a concern for its future. As a teenager, I spent as much time outdoors as I could, even while living in a big city. And I always had a camera in hand to try to capture all the beauty I saw around me. I vividly remember seeing a picture of Greenpeace activists positioning their small inflatable between a harpoon and a fleeing whale. That image was so powerful it prompted in me a strong urge to also try to protect what I loved. Combining both of these passions, photography and nature, was the natural result. In many projects, I have explored the varied facets of our interaction with the natural world.
The country of Greenland combines majestic scenery with a vastness that is difficult to grasp. That difficulty intensifies when we are confronted with the reality that Greenland is already being very much affected by global warming. I felt that if I could create images that were at the same time beautiful and haunting, and had enough tension within them, that I could make the viewer want to ask further questions and seek a response.
Greenland supports the world’s second-largest ice cap, and that ice is rapidly melting. The ice and glaciers show an increasingly marred surface that is disintegrating before our eyes. The “dark snow” coating the ice comes from cryoconite, which is the ash, dust, and soot produced by forest fires, volcanism, and industrial pollution that is carried through the atmosphere from thousands of miles away to settle on northern snow. These deposits lower the reflectivity of the ice and allow an increasing amount of solar energy to be absorbed, which leads to melting. Even a small change in the reflectivity of the ice increases the transformation of solid ice into water. This is having a vast impact on every living creature on the planet today. Fifteen percent of the sea level rise observed since 1995 is attributed to meltwater from Greenland. Its retreating glaciers are currently projected to add nearly eight inches to sea levels by the end of the twentieth-first century, and that doesn’t include the contributions of the much larger Antarctic ice sheet.
In 1997, I began my photographic journey to raise awareness about the processes and impacts of global warming. Since that time, I’ve been witness to more than my share of environmental destruction, but I’m not discouraged. In fact, I’m energized by the potential of catalyzing positive change through my work. If we can figure out how to send people to outer space, we can also figure out a way for all of us to have healthy lives on Earth. Our future on our planet depends on our collective ability to act quickly. We need to do something now.
Born in Madrid, Daniel Beltrá is a photographer based in Seattle.Over the past two decades, his work has taken him to all seven continents, including several expeditions to the Brazilian Amazon,the Arctic, the Southern Ocean, and the Patagonian ice fields.For his work on the Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico oil spill, he received the 2011 Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award in the Wildlife Photojournalist category, and a 2011 Lucie Award in the Deeper Perspective Photographer of the Year category. Beltrá has had solo exhibitions of his work in Aspen, Los Angeles, Chicago,London, New York, Paris, Berlin, Barcelona, Madrid, and Seattle. Other highlights to his career include a 2013 BBVA Foundation award in Knowledge Dissemination and Communication in Biodiversity Conservation, the 2009 Prince’s Rainforest Project award granted by Prince Charles, and awards for his work in the Amazon from World Press Photo in 2006 and 2007. Daniel’s work has been published in The New Yorker, TIME, National Geographic, Newsweek,The New York Times, Le Monde, The Guardian, GEO, and El Pais,among many others.