Secret Histories | Looking at the Future of Earth Through the Eyes of 34 Artists

Artwork: Mandy Barker. SOUP: Bird’s Nest, 2011. Ingredients; discarded fishing line that have formed nest-like balls due to tidal and oceanic movement. Additives; other debris collected in its path. Courtesy of the artist.

We sit at the tipping point of history affecting a casual air of disbelief, like an ostrich with its head in the sand believing if you don’t look, you will be safe. Yet reality does not coddle delusions of the mind; most assuredly it does just the opposite. When denial reaches its final, abysmal end, then changes may come—but what if it’s too late?

Also: Secret Histories | David T. Hanson: Wilderness to Wasteland

“How can you live and breathe on this planet without wishing to be its guardian? Without wanting to preserve it for future generations. Without appreciating its uniqueness in the known universe?” artist Jamey Stillings asks in Changing Circumstances: Looking at the Future of the Planet (Schilt).

Nigel Dickinson. Fires burning below, 2007. Using fire to separate metal from plastic and rubber, a recycling worker takes advantage of the permanently smouldering rubbish inside Smokey Mountain. From the series Smokey Mountain and Recycling Phnom Penh, 2007-2010. Courtesy of artist

Nigel Dickinson. Fires burning below, 2007. Using fire to separate metal from plastic and rubber, a recycling worker takes advantage of the
permanently smouldering rubbish inside Smokey Mountain. From the series Smokey Mountain and Recycling Phnom Penh, 2007-2010. Courtesy of artist

The book presents the work of 34 international artists exploring our relationship to the environment in photographic, video, and digital work. Here, the artists take on a wide array of challenges facing the future of life on earth, including climate change, population, migration, biodiversity, natural resources, waste, migration, and water, energy, and food production.

The book beautifully fuses art and activism alongside science and politics to create an enduring image of life in its all its vibrant glory. Each artists is driven by a personal quest, one to which they have dedicated their creative energies to manifest. Through their eyes we see the planet as it is today, and the profound effects of human interference and entitlement.

Toby Smith. Madagascar: Treasured Island, 2013. HD Video with Animations and Titles. Courtesy of the artist

Toby Smith. Madagascar: Treasured Island, 2013. HD Video with Animations and Titles. Courtesy of the artist

Brazilian artist Vik Muniz’s series Pictures of Garbage is among the most powerful work in the book, as he recasts the most filthy, worthless detritus of life into profound images of beauty and survival. Working with the catadores, or pickers, from the world’s largest landfill, Jardim Gramacho in Rio de Janeiro, Muniz constructs portraits of the men and women, while integrating the garbage into the images.

Muniz reveals, “The first five minutes in Gramacho is really overwhelming because all of your senses are being attacked. Visually, too, because your eyes move and see fragments of things you recognize, but not quite, so it’s very artistic. Your eyes are moving, then there’s the smell, and the noise is unbearable.”

Karen Glaser. Spanish Moss, 2009. From the series Springs and Swamps. Courtesy of the artist

Karen Glaser. Spanish Moss, 2009. From the series Springs and Swamps. Courtesy of the artist

Yet despite the noxious sensory overload, the human spirit prevails. A sense of hope, faith, and love runs like a golden thread through the book. As bleak as reality may be, the artists featured here hold fast to the power of the will that has come to define humanity. Changing Circumstances doesn’t just identify problems; it asks questions, suggests solutions, and offers encouragement, inspiration, and support.

As American photographer David Doubilet writes in his artist’s statement accompanying a series of luscious underwater images made in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, “I enter the sea now not only to document the devastation and advocate change, but also to convey the beauty I find underwater so viewers can feel a sense of hope and build a connection with that world. For me personally, it is critical to make a picture that transcends journalism—to make an image that goes beyond the reported story and enters the realm of art. If we lose the magic in the sea, we will lose the ability to open people’s minds and inspire change.”

Dornith Doherty. Thirst, 2009. From the series Archiving Eden. Courtesy of the artist, Moody Gallery, Houston; and Holly Johnson Gallery, Dallas

Dornith Doherty. Thirst, 2009. From the series Archiving Eden. Courtesy of the artist, Moody Gallery, Houston; and Holly Johnson Gallery, Dallas


Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.