I was excited to participate in Objektiv’s “One Image” column, but trying to pick a single photograph to write about was more difficult than I had imagined! With so much conflict and uncertainty confronting our societies and communities today, choosing one image to represent everything that is currently on my mind felt like a slightly overwhelming task.
In the end I settled on this photograph, taken on Friday 15 March 2019 at a Climate Strike rally in Wellington, New Zealand. The photograph’s frame is filled with a large group of young people, many holding signs and placards with their mouths open, fists raised, and hands poised mid-clap. Most of their gazes shoot off in different directions, towards each other or attracted by action happening outside the frame. In the middle though, one of the young girls appears to be looking directly at the camera, as she raises her cardboard sign above her head. Whether or not she was actually addressing the photographer directly hardly seems to matter; the centrality of her gaze and her message creates a moment of individual interaction amongst the large crowd.
The slogan drawn on the girl’s sign, “There is no planet B!”, also caught my attention. Across these young people’s protests – which have been inspired by Swedish student Greta Thunberg – the intelligence, emotion and humour of their slogans, speeches and calls to action have been impressive and inspiring. They are reminders of the political and visual literacy that young people possess today (even if some of our politicians would seek to deny and refute the political agency and engagement of younger generations). Yet amongst all the diverse and creative messages held high on these young protesters’ signs, some slogans proved particularly popular and recurrent. “There is no planet B!” is one such example. I spotted it on signs from Hong Kong to Gibraltar, South Africa to France, Australia to Germany, and more.
This slogan is effective for a number of reasons. By evoking a scenario of pure science fiction – for example, think of the “Off-World Colonies” in Blade Runner – the slogan in fact reasserts the reality of our present. It conveys a visually evocative sense of urgency. My mind goes, unsurprisingly, to the famous “Blue Marble” image taken by NASA astronauts of the Apollo 17 mission. Of course, it is quite likely that somewhere in the universe, there could be planets similar to Earth that are sustaining sentient life. However, the reality of climate change means that for human and non-human animals on Earth, there really is no Planet B to escape to.
Photographs of children and young people are inherently symbols of the future, of lives not yet lived and potential not yet filled. Yet this slogan, and indeed the multitude of images of Climate Strike protests, evoke an impossible future. They speak to the uncertainty and anxiety that is palpably affecting these young people. As Australian academic Blanche Verlie has written recently, climate change is fundamentally changing “young people’s sense of self, identity, and existence”. They are the first generation to have only known a world under catastrophic threat of climate change. These protests and images are about recasting dominant symbols and narratives of the future; hopefully, their urgency will transform older generations’ perspectives and actions towards the future as well.
Kate Warren is a Lecturer of Art History and Curatorship at the Australian National University, Canberra.
In our very first issues, we invited different people to write about an image they found memorable, under the headline ’Sinnbilde’, a column inspired by FOAM Magazine. Now, in Objektiv’s 10th year, as the ocean of images continues to swell, we’re reigniting this column online.