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Climate change inspires photo exhibit by Cape and Islands students

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Eve Zuckoff
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Photographs shot by local high school students are being featured at the Falmouth Art Center's new “Witnessing Climate Change" exhibit.

The Falmouth Art Center is featuring student photography that captures scenes of climate change around the region.

Students from Falmouth High School, Falmouth Academy, and Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School submitted 57 photographs to be judged in three categories: climate impacts on nature, climate impacts on society, and community or individual solutions.

For the project, Falmouth High School’s studio art teacher, Jane Baker, traveled all over the region with her students.

“We were down in Woods Hole. We were in Eastham. We were in Monomoy. We went to all these different places. So the kids were able to … see sea level rise.”

Those trips, she said, led to passionate conversations among students.

“They actually talked to each other about how they noticed over time that, 'Oh yeah, at the beach that I go to, the jetty does this now,' or 'At the beach that I go to, you know, things are exposed that didn't used to be exposed,’” Baker said. “So they were comparing the places that they're used to. You know, here they are 16, 17, 18, and they have years of experience watching a particular place that has changed.”

One of Baker’s students, 17-year-old Casey McCowen, said the project allowed her peers to channel their feelings around climate change into art.

“There's a lot of frustration between me and other kids my age because I feel like past generations knew about this problem, but nobody really acted upon it and just sort of let it happen. So now it's almost up to my generation to, like, fix it,” she said, “which is really frustrating because it's kind of a big deal to fix the world ending.”

Many featured photos in the exhibit show scenes of eroding dunes, lonely fishing boats, and plastic pollution. The project allowed students to communicate about climate change in a new way, McCowen said.

“Sometimes people don't want to pay attention to what's going on. But it's really dire right now,” she said. “And I’m just trying to show that to others and … like, wake people up, grab them by the shoulders and shake them and say, ‘Hey, look, what's going on!’ I feel like art’s a good way to do that.”

Along with the photos, students included short essays explaining what, for example, they saw in pond ecosystems, why they chose to shoot that horseshoe crab or stage that soda can, and how they connected what they captured in their photos to climate change.

Dylan Bowen, an 18-year-old from the Vineyard, won first place in the society category for a photo titled “Rock Bottom.” She photographed a friend sitting in a lawn chair at the bottom of a community pool.

“I was just working on water projects for photography, and she was like, ‘Oh, I'll just get in the pool.’ I was like ‘OK!’” Bowen said. “And I was looking at it and I was like, ‘Oh my God, sea levels are rising’ and … I just thought that photo really represented, like, we’re drowning, you know? We’re drowning ourselves.”

The idea for the photo contest was generated by retired local scientist, Bob Gould, and was judged by Jen Kan of the Upper Cape Camera Club, and Anya Zolkos, a climate scientist at Woodwell Climate Research Center.

The exhibit will remain at the Falmouth Art Center until Monday, January 31. Photos can be found online at https://falmouthart.org/witnessing-climate-change/.

Eve Zuckoff covers the environment and human impacts of climate change for CAI.