Timo Lieber is well known for his aerial photography, which captures the stark beauty of our planet. His work is both highly detailed and revealing, while also prompting wonder at the mystery of the world beyond our everyday lives. One of his most compelling projects is THAW, a series of aerial photographs of the Arctic ice cap.
Lieber teamed up with the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge to produce the images for THAW, which he describes as ‘a collaboration between photography and science.’ The resulting photographs are both strikingly beautiful and a haunting reminder of the alarming effects of climate change.
In an interview with The Guardian newspaper, Lieber explains that instead of the atmospheric monochrome colours you might expect to see at the polar ice cap, the landscape is now carved out by a mosaic of deep blue lakes. These lakes are the result of global warming, and every year they multiply and appear higher on the ice cap.
The ice in between the lakes is fragmented like the surface of ancient ceramics, no longer a pristine sheet but a fragile covering that is breaking up and disappearing. As the sea levels continue to rise, scientists predict that the glacial fields will decline by 10% over the next 10 years.
Lieber describes how he went about capturing the compelling photographs during a summer week when the sun barely sets. “Imagine sitting in a helicopter without any doors, strapped into a harness and leaning out over the Arctic ice cap.”
He added: “It’s not particularly comfortable. The helicopter also costs around £2,000 an hour to fly, so I ended up shooting mostly from a twin-engine plane, which only had a tiny hole in the window. That meant the pilot needed to tilt the plane at an almost 60-degree angle for me to be able to shoot vertically down. He was swearing at me a lot.”
“The images are deliberately abstract. I didn’t want them to be documentary photographs. You have to get close to find the small, hidden details that help you to understand what you’re seeing. They’re beautiful, but what you’re looking at is climate change at its worst.”
Lieber describes his favourite image, which looks like an eye staring the effects of climate change back into the face of the viewer.
Like all artists whose works stands the test of time, Lieber creates images that are aesthetically complex and beautiful, but also challenge our perception of the world around us.
The images are at once abstract and brutally truthful: the Arctic not as magical winter wonderland, tangled up with tales of heroic explorers, anthropomorphised animals and sentimental Christmas adverts, but as a harsh reminder of the damage that climate change has already done to the planet, and the myriad challenges that lie ahead.
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