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.

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