From Beer Coasters to EU Parliament

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Sometime in the fall of 2010 I sat down with my friend Kate Harriman at a bar in Amsterdam. Our drinking hole of choice was Pacific Parc in the Westerpark and I had invited Kate to help me develop a new idea into a real photography project.

I recognized that climate change imagery focusing on environmental impacts wasn’t encouraging action – instead, it seemed to be pushing many towards complacency. It was time to work on something positive. Something that shared stories about change, about renewable energy, and about how the world is today – not some distant future that we can’t grasp.

Over a glass of Texels Skuumkoppe we started to write down our ideas and thoughts on the only available stationary, the beer coasters. Inevitably we ran out of coasters but quickly solved the problem by ordering more beer.

Over the next months and years, Kate and I continued to spend countless hours on our project. It now had a name, Force, and we wrote proposals, called potential partners, honed our language, and called more partners.

I found the first story after a 30km bike ride to visit farmer Stephan de Clerck.20130604_rvw_amsterdam_013 He and his family have been harvesting the wind for over a decade. That bike ride quickly told me two things: first, a bike is not the easiest mode of transportation for a project on wind energy, and second, the locations weren’t going to be easily accesible.

My trips started to get further and further afield. A bit of money from a magazine allowed me to self-fund a trip to the the Czech Republic. I tacked a few days on a travel magazine gig to get stories from Ireland. A trip to Nepal for the Climate Oxide project allowed an exploration into the nascent wind energy scene in Kathmandu. A family visit to Australia allowed me to stop in Thailand to explore the construction of the largest wind park in South East Asia.

The stories were varied and by the end of 2011 included 5 countries.

I partnered with the Global Campaign for Climate Action who posted the stories in the lead up to RIO +20 and this got the attention of the European Wind Energy Association. The EWEA felt that my story-based communication was a breath of fresh air, and they adopted it as part of their 2013 communications plan. They funded the exploration of three more European countries – Romania, the UK and Poland. That three-week whirlwind trip resulted in 8 more stories and the EWEA has been steadily publishing these stories on their blog over the last few months.20130604_rvw_amsterdam_015

Yesterday I was at the European Parliament for the the opening reception of the photography exhibit Discover the Stories Behind Wind Energy. Images are below. Six different stories from six different EU countries line the Couloir Cheval – the corridor where the conservative MEPs pass through on the way to their office. Good placement!

It has been a long road, 3 years. It involved a lot of trust, commitment and personal investment, but Force has once again reaffirmed my belief that a good idea, combined with a lot of hard work, will result in exciting partnerships and successful projects.

The EWEA photo exhibition will continue to be shown by EWEA members across Europe in the coming year.

Quality visuals and well-told stories can make a difference. It is my hope that the Force project has helped us to take a small step towards the future that we want.

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2 thoughts on “From Beer Coasters to EU Parliament

  1. It was a pleasure assisting you on the UK leg of your wind photo story project. Although I did make a contribution (chiefly in the guise of lead chauffeur!), I feel that I got far more back in return. I was happy to be able to put a photo story together “Documenting wind energy – a look behind the lens” based on our weeklong road trip together. I hope that this has provided some insight into the discipline, determination and dedication of a climate change photographer. Climate Change is one of those global macro issues that is most difficult of all to communicate effectively. I passionately believe that photography (whether that be documentary, reportage, photojournalism or indeed fine art) is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal to raise awareness of this issue. I also fully subscribe to your view that more positive stories are needed to bring people along a path where there is light at the end of the tunnel. We, photographers, have the power to portray just how the human spirit can make a real difference for the better despite being led to believe that the issues are just too big and too complicated to be resolved by mere mortals.

    As I watched Robert work, I thought to myself, “I could never do what this guy is doing”. I couldn’t interview as effectively as he could, I couldn’t sit down at the end of an exhausting day and update my blog, I couldn’t take the setbacks and bounce back with a fresh lead to explore. I was ready to give up. But now, I’m doing something similar for myself – though admittedly not as well! Two trips to Cumbria and the west of Ireland in as many months to gather fresh material for ongoing projects I’m working on – multiple interviews, updates on Storify and social media, accolades and rejections. Robert showed me that it was possible. Other photographers have spurned my advances to collaborate with someone who is just starting out on a journey as a documentary photographer. I imagine that this is a shared experience for others in my position. This puts some perspective on Robert’s willingness to partner up with me on his UK trip. Robert has inspired me to carry on raising awareness of climate change in the UK, Ireland and further afield as he moves on to pastures new. And I’ve gained a new respect for the importance of beer mats, pub grub and English ale along the way…

  2. Hi Colin,
    Thank-you for your support on this project, your great comment and for putting up with me for the week. I am impressed by your short photo story on my work and I hope that the experience gave a lot in return. It seems that it has. You are well on your way with your ideas and passion, all that remains now is to keep at it. I am have equally gained more respect for the size of an English Breakfast and am proud that by the end of the trip, I managed to almost eat a full one. I hope that our paths will cross again over another ale or whatever time of social drink is available in whatever country we end up in. Enjoy, good luck and please keep using photography to inspire change!

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