Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Project Proposal

  The issue of sustainability, especially from an ecological perspective, is rapidly becoming one of the top concerns in the global consciousness. Policy makers the United Nations Climate Change conference in Copenhagen this December, will develop a strategy to tackle the ecological crisis caused by excessive CO2 levels in the atmosphere. Norway has been one of the leading countries in sustainability research and ecological consciousness since the defining Brundtland Report in 1983. In February 2008 the Global Crop Diversity Trust built the Svalbard International Seed Vault on Spitsbergen, the first large-scale seed bank designed to withstand catastrophes like nuclear war. Tomra, one of the world's top companies for recycling innovation, is based in Lier, Norway. However, the question of sustainability is complex in Norway, where a government strongly invested in biodiversity still mandates a quota on Minke whale fishing. Also paradoxical, Oslo is currently the city with the highest cost of living in Europe, and the Norwegian economy is booming mostly thanks to their lucrative oil reserves. My goal is to investigate individual and national Norwegian perspectives on sustainability, and to compile a compelling photographic document of the individuals I interview.

    I was awarded a Fulbright grant from the United States Department of State to finance my first year of study at the University of Oslo (UiO) (2009-2010) and the photography project. As a Fulbright grantee, I act as a liaison for communication between Norway and the US. A greater philosophical understanding of the concept of sustainable development has helped me realize how much all of the world can benefit from the sharing of ideas. I could think of no better country in which to conduct my research than the homeland of world-famous eco-philosopher Arne Naess, developer of the Deep Ecology movement. My project allows my own American ideas and concerns about sustainable development to mingle with the Norwegian mindset. The final project aims to enlighten citizens in both countries and inspire more creative solutions to issues like global climate change, increased socioeconomic inequality, and the energy crisis.

Current Status
    I have begun making a large series of photographic portraits to illustrate excerpts from semi-structured interviews I conduct with Norwegians from a broad sociological spectrum. I have met with and photographed politicians, students, businessmen, scientists, teachers, activists, and other potential stakeholders in the broad field of sustainable development. I am well on my way to having one political representative from each of the parliamentary parties in Norway. I have already interviewed and photographed approximately twenty Norwegians, including Erik Solheim, Kurt Oddekalv, Frederic Hauge and a group of children from the environmentalist group EcoAgents.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change granted me a press pass to attend the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen from 7 - 18 December this year. I will attend as a photographer on behalf of my local news agency in New Hampshire, Seacoast Media Group. I will also document many events at the convention to include as a special section in my compilation of interviews and photographs with Norwegians. This will serve to establish a current, international context for the responses.
   I am also enrolled in the Culture, Environment and Sustainability Masters program at UiO's Center for Development and the Environment (SUM). My intensive study of interdisciplinary research methods in Environmental Studies has informed my photography project and facilitated connections with Norwegians who specialize in this field. My photography project has reciprocally informed my research. Justin Carter, from the Glasgow School of Art, has taken an interest in my project and agreed to supervise me on my thesis work next year. He has worked in Stavanger and Trondheim making site-specific artworks and facilitating workshops integrating ecology and art. Karen Syse, the program director at SUM, has also agreed to supervise me on the anthropological side of my interdisciplinary project.

  Through conducting semi-structured interviews with my photographic subjects, I became intrigued with an idea that has developed into a plan for my master's thesis. The next step will be to analyze the subjects' overall level of satisfaction with their own lifestyle choices, their workplace, national government and international policies in terms of promoting a more environmentally friendly future. Some preliminary interview questions inquire about their literacy level regarding environmental issues, pinpointing the subject's areas of particular interest. The American Scandinavian Foundation fellowship would financially support the analysis required for my master's thesis by covering the expenses involved in carrying out the project and living expenses.
   I stratify my sampling when choosing photographic subjects based on their political or organizational affiliation, gender, occupation, age and geographic location. Based on background research on the individual or preliminary meetings, I develop a question set for that particular Norwegian (see attached for two examples). I also include standard questions inquiring about the aforementioned levels of satisfaction. Some research questions for the analysis I will conduct next year are:
  1. What trends can I detect through cross-analysis of all collected responses?
  2. How might the subjects' responses differ from individuals from other nations? Is their relationship to the environment a particularly Norwegian quality?
  3. Is there more information needed from any particular individuals? If so, contact the person for follow-up questioning.
  4. Are there qualitative trends in the level of environmental literacy among subjects in terms of sociological status?
  5. Do subjects assess Norway's international policies as better, worse or the same quality as their national policies?

Proposed Result
  The final product of the project, including the interview texts and photographs, will ultimately be a book. I have communicated with two different artist book publishers on the subject - Visual Studies Workshop Press and Preachers Biscuit Books. I also plan to contact powerHouse Books in Brooklyn, NY as the project evolves further. The book may also be available on the web through my website. I have some experience in two-dimensional and graphic design from my classes at Rochester Institute of Technology and I will use those skills for the layout of the final book. Colorful environmental photographs from my travels around Norway will accompany the portraits of Norwegians. The book will be an artistic exploration of sustainability from all perspectives and aspects. I intend to keep any and all travel stubs, tickets, receipts and found objects that I acquire while I am doing research and photographing individuals in Norway. When the time comes to compile the book, I will use the innate impulse for collage that pervades much of my work to add visual interest using these elements. In this respect, the final product will have a personal touch that I hope will intrigue my readers and remind us that despite some of the larger-than-life rhetoric used to describe sustainability, the concept is truly about each one of us and our children.

Monday, November 23, 2009

November - In a nutshell

The project is coming along well - slowly but surely. I have decided to also focus on getting representation from the corporate sector. As my thesis concept develops in my mind, I realize the significance of getting a broad sample of Norwegian participants. To analyze the cultural connection between Norwegians and their ideology about nature and the environment, I will need to speak with many different Norwegians.

This weekend I will travel to the Lofoten archipelago with a group of friends in hopes of seeing the northern lights, the world's largest maelstrom, and, of course, to meet with some of the locals. I hope I will meet some people with 20 minutes to spare for a photo and interview session. As I may have said before, I have found Norwegians to be surprisingly receptive to random approaches. I had quite a bit of luck with this technique at a Bodens Marked (farmers market) this fall.

Hollmenkollen Park Hotel emerges from the mist

Last Wednesday I attended a workshop about CDM - Clean Development Mechanism. The presentations were enlightening, providing many facts about Carbon Emission Reductions (CERs) and how they cohere with the various stipulations of the Kyoto protocol. One presentation posed the question of whether or not REDD programs - those dedicated to reforestation or the halt of deforestation - should be classified as CDM projects. If that were the case, the Norwegian government would probably already have surpassed their Kyoto responsibilities due to the 5 billion NOK in foreign aid and relief funds they invest in rainforest protection every year.
A Parliamentary Advisor from the Finance Department reported that 85% of the CDM projects Norway has invested in are small projects. He explained that it is difficult to find larger projects that meet the UNFCCC criteria and also generate enough CERs to make it worth their while.
There was some disagreement among presenters about the actual percentage of Norwegian electricity that is produced from hydro power (vannkraftprosjekter). Most news sources and the website for Statkraft (the Norwegian government-owned power company) claim that 99% of Norwegian electricity is generated by hydro plants. The presenters at the workshop seemed to think it was less than this, also mentioning that Norway exports some of its hydro power to other countries.

Near the end of the workshop an interesting question was posed by Arild Angelsen of the Norwegian University of Life Sciences in Ås:
"Why are we more concerned with where our carbon credits are coming from than our coffee or cocoa or other goods we purchase from the tropics?"
He was responding to the concern that a disproportionate number of CDM projects are taking place in China.

My main concern when listening to the presentations is whether enough money is being spent on developing newer, more efficient renewable technologies so that we are not spending a lot to quickly reduce our carbon debt (per Kyoto) but ignoring the quality factor. The CDM model is interesting in theory, as it forces industrialized countries to help undeveloped nations establish more ecologically sound energy sources while their energy demands grow. I am skeptical about whether this is being embraced aggressively enough to slow the consistently steep increase in worldwide atmospheric CO2 concentration.

Frederic Hauge of Bellona, a Norwegian NGO I met with last Thursday, is a strong supporter of Carbon Capture and Storage technology. He looks forward to developments in CCS technologies which may work to sequester CO2 in biofuel power plants, thus potentially using the stored energy and forcing it back into the carbon cycle.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Grant Application = Finished!!!

I have been out of the loop for a few days (or years, I can't quite tell!) due to some voracious work on my grant application to stay in Norway next year. My intention now is to analyze the qualitative data I have collected from my Fulbright project for my master's thesis. The conceptual framework is basically to identify the ideological relationship Norwegian individuals have with sustainable development. I want to analyze their overall level of satisfation with their own lifestyle choices, their workplace, national government and international policies in terms of promoting a more environmentally friendly future. Follow up questions might be necessary next year to fully explore these variables.

The final product will still, ultimately, be a book. This may set the date back on projected publication, as I would like to include some of my more analytical conclusions within the text.

Here is a photo of the man who conquered the wasteful yellow pages in Norway (Sverre Stakkestad) with his son at the EcoAgents landmøte a couple of weekends ago.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Road to Copenhagen and the Quest for Brundtland

After being granted press accreditation for the UN COP15 (Climate Change Conference) in Copenhagen, I have begun my travel plans. I have already booked a the bus to arrive there on 7 December, which will take all night and should be a blast because it drives up onto a ferry for part of the way! Once there at 07.25, I will have to hit the ground running on the first day of the conference. I really don't know what to expect. I'm sure there will be a schedule provided when I check in and collect my press badge. I hope to be very busy!
Just being in the midst of this internationally historical event should be impressive. I'm sure many people will gather for demonstrations, protests and performances. There will undoubtedly be a plethora of "decisive moments" just waiting to be captured. Funny, as my professor Doug Manchee from RIT just reminded me: Photojournalism was the only concentration within the BFA Photo program that I was not enrolled in at any point.

Last weekend I met with an environmentalist activist group for kids called EcoAgents at Maridalen Skole, in Nordmarka east of where I live. It was an absolutely BEAUTIFUL setting. As I rode the bus up there, the sun was golden and falling sublimely on the sprawling, grassy landscape. Enchanting vistas of the fjord and the city of Oslo creeping up the scooping, glacial hills have almost lost their novelty as they are so common. In fact, every day as I ride my bike to school I catch a post-card-picture glimpse of the view. Three things I saw on my way to Maridalen skole, which were just unbelievably perfect:
A pasture with 9 white sheep, and one black one.
A herd of Clydesdales. Yes, Clydesdales. I am not making this up.
A woman sitting in the grass in a pasture next to a fence with a dog beside her. A colt and his mother grazing on the other side of the fence, golden light illuminating their coats in an almost melodramatically resplendent way.

No, I did not catch a photo of any of these scenes. Yes, I regret it. But it could have served as little more than proof that I actually was there and saw these things. The scratches on the bus window and the swift movement of our passing would have prohibited me from truly capturing the magnificence of the scene. I will just have to hope that you believe me.
Honestly, I'm fairly sure that my humble hands could not have done justice to what I saw anyway. I'm glad that I just sat back and enjoyed.

On Tuesday I had a very successful interview with the Minister for Environment and Development, Erik Solheim. I was impressed with his eloquent responses to my questions. He had some borderline-yogiesque insights about balance and compromise that I cannot wait to include in the book.

Gro Harlem Brundtland, that most inspiring of historic leaders, that woman of wisdom, power and grace, continues to allude me. I have tried almost every tactic I can think of to find her contact info online. I have contacted groups she is or has been involved in (with the exception of the illustrious Elders, whom I think are far too wise to publish a contact address on the net). I have tried to go through Arbeiderpartiet, though somewhat half-heartedly. I do plan to photograph a representative from that group as soon as I can. Perhaps they will have some information for me as to how to get in touch with my hero. I will fly to France to meet her!!

And now for some totally random photos:

Friday, October 9, 2009

A Productive Week

Next Tuesday I have an appointment to meet and photograph Erik Solheim, the Minister of Environment and International Development. A very nice Norwegian from my Research Methods class has offered to assist for the photo shoot so we can make the most of our scheduled half hour with Mr. Solheim. I'm really looking forward to this and having a hard time narrowing down which questions to ask him.

This week I touched base with a representative from a local children's environmentalist organization called Miljøagentene (or EcoAgents) and tomorrow I will attend their annual conference. I look forward to getting these well-informed childrens' perspectives on a range of environmental issues. Last Sunday I photographed Malin Jacob, a vice president of Natur og Ungdom (Nature and Youth), a youth environmentalist group based in Oslo that has connections in many European cities. Those pictures came out very well (below).

Last week I met with Lars Andreas Lunde of the Høyre party. He currently serves as a parliamentary adviser on the committee for energy and the environment. The interview went extremely well and I had an opportunity to photograph him in the main parliamentary chamber. Lars is the second political representative I have photographed, the first being Chris Olsen of Venstre (the Liberal Party). I also found out Chris is an excellent cook and a fellow Stan Getz fan.

I met with Pal Larsen, owner of a local apple juice business. It is very common for Norwegians to have apple trees in their yards, often bearing more fruit than one family can consume. The fallen apples can become a nuisance if not collected as they will attract a variety of animals (most unwelcome of which are the rodents). Pal's customers pick their apples and bring them by the bagful to his collection facility. They are then turned into apple juice and can be sold back to the customer at a significantly discounted rate (less than a quarter of what they would pay in the store). Below is a portrait from that shoot.

Of course there is more, but if I told about all of these fascinating individuals here then nobody would want a copy of the book!!

Press Cred

My latest article in the Exeter Newsletter:

Monday, September 28, 2009

Project Update

Goals: Photograph and interview at least one representative from each of the main Norwegian political parties (Arbeiderpartiet, Fremskrittpartiet, Høyre, Sosialistisk Venstreparti -done-, Krestelig Folkeparti, Venstre, Senterpartiet, Rødt and Miljøpartiet De Grønne).
Environmental groups should also be represented - Norwegian Society for Conservation of Nature (Norges Naturvernforbund), Zero Emission Resource Organisation (ZERO), Nature and Youth (Natur og Ungdom), Bellona, Eco-Agents (Miljøagentene)...

That should be enough for today's calling list!

Friday, September 25, 2009


After a semi-spontaneous and very welcome visit from my parents (carrying the most delicious of rations-cargo: homemade fudge!!), the three of us made our way down to Athens, Greece for a weekend. It was a fun-filled journey of sight-seeing and copious Greek food consumption that left us all wishing we could stay in the masterpiece archeological metropolis for longer.

Our journey took us first through Freiberg, a charming city closer to the Munich airport than the main Bavarian capital. We ate some wurst and enjoyed the beginnings of Oktoberfest (including an odd but entertaining parade, complete with marching band, through the airport).

Finally, we arrived in Athens after nightfall to enjoy a generous portion of Ouzo at the hotel bar, to scope out our room and to collapse immediately into a much-needed slumber. The next day, we hit the Acropolis.

Theater of Dionysus

Frieze behind marble stage

Herod Atticus Odeon - Theater from 1st Century AD on slopes of the Acropolis, still in use

Past wall of Odeon looking at Filopappou Hill, "the Hill of the Muses," which we could see from our hotel balcony:

At the Parthenon

Sprawling Athens, seen past the crumbling wall around the Acropolis

Erechtheion: dedicated to Athena and Poseidon after mythical contest in which Athena's olive tree surmounted Poseidon's freshwater spring and secured her rule over the city.

Frieze at Hephaistos (460-415 BC)

Acropolis from the Hephaistos at the ancient Agora

Inside the Church of the Holy Apostles (AD 1000) in the Agora

Statues of "the Odyssey" and "the Iliad" (2nd C AD) at the rebuilt Stoa of Attalos

Gold mosaic on Byzantine church precariously holding its ground in the middle of a modern Athens street.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Miscellaneous Oslo Photos

Opera House

Sunning on the summer iceberg

Santiago came to visit me a few weeks ago after completing his summer studies in Copenhagen.

The bustling Karl Johan's Gate

The lawn around Akershus Castle

Rådhuset on left

I love Vigelandsparken

Blueberry Warrior

Credit: Jeremy Jimenez, ordained minister, photodocumentarian and salsa dancer

Monday, September 14, 2009

Begerka, berries and Blå bon-bon blues boys

I have been riding my bike so much lately that sometimes it feels awkward to walk! I have devised a system that some may consider lazy, but I contend it is merely a resourceful method to accomplish as many tasks as possible while still conserving vital energy reserves for later. Here it is: I ride my bike downhill from Kringsjå Studentby, the area where I live, to my classes (either near Ullevål Stadion or at the UiO campus at Blindern). Then I bring my bike on the T-Bane back up the hill with me when I'm finished. Now, the hill down from Kringsjå boasts at least a 10% grade (see "Measuring Hilliness of Routes," Roberts, Kenneth S. for about 2 km. On a good day, I walk my bike only a small part of the way. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not against exercise by any means; I'm just against suicide, which is what that road can turn into after a long day of classes! I really feel that my love and dedication for Begerka boogie bike has a linear relationship with the amount of arduous riding I do. The average hilliness of roads around here is enough to have firmed up my leg muscles into a state that's twice (ballpark estimate) as solid as they were before I came here!

Anyway, yesterday I joined a couple other Fulbrighters and former Fulbright Program Officer for a berry-picking excursion. We walked the traditional route from Frognerseteren to Sognsvann (about 4km as the crow flies), finding occasional blueberry goldmines along the way. Tyttebær, like a miniature Norwegian version of the cranberry in taste and appearance, but growing more in hilly areas than bogs, grow in abundance near most blueberry bushes. I picked almost a whole liter of berries, enough to make a healthy supply of jam, I think. I also found a few raspberries - though these were few and far between and were begging to be eaten immediately rather than squirreled away in my berry container. I granted them that privilege. hahaha I will try to get a hold of a certain photograph a fellow Fulbrighter took of me after I had applied my "bushel-berry-badass" war paint.

View of Oslo Fjord from Frognerseteren

Rustic restaurant, also at Frognerseteren

Last night a few friends took me to a way cool cat's club that hosts a free jazz show on Sunday nights. Despite the glitzy, sequined or mirror-covered images suggested by the joint's name (Blå = "blue") the atmosphere is eclectic and welcoming. Missed the band this week but I will probably return there again weekly!

Two more portrait and interview sessions completed this weekend!! Pretty productive weekend! There is so much happening in 'mitt liv' right now, I should probably write more than once a week.

Hal Wilhite: Professor at SUM