Through his new book of photographs Bernard Francou focuses on the natural beauty of the Andes to draw attention to the perils of climate change.
What prompted you to publish a book of pictures of the Andean deserts?
First, I know the Andes well…I’ve been travelling there for over 20 years! More than anything else, however, I want to show that there are still places where nature is untouched by human hands. There is no more Wild West, the only “new frontiers” left to explore are those within ourselves. Contemplating these exceptional landscapes will help us renew our ties to nature, the ties that allow man to rediscover his place.
You wanted to use a new approach, one that was less scientific …
In my previous works, such as Les Glaciers à l’Epreuve du Climat (written with Christian Vincent and published by the French Institute for Development Research in 2007, I used more technical information to underscore the fragility of these environments, which are changing before our very eyes. This time, I’ve opted for an aesthetic approach…The message is the same: we should leave as few traces as possible on the planet. But photographs, I feel, can reach a broad target group. If you respect an environment for its beauty, if you “understand” it, it becomes natural to want to protect it.
What was it that made you, a glaciologist, take up a camera?
I’ve always taken pictures, preferably landscape and abstract shots. My father and my uncle were mountain photographers, and I remember their heavy field camera, the dark cloth flapping at 4000 metres, high up in the Écrins massif. My style draws me, of course, towards nature at its simplest. I can’t abide “clichés”. And I like the idea that there are still places where our imagination can take refuge.
The last time we spoke, you told us that you spent more time at your workbench than in the field …
That’s even truer now! The glacier observation network I created in 1991 is working well, and I’m becoming increasingly interested in spreading knowledge of climate issues among laymen. I also continue to publish the observations of the Chimborazo ice-core drilling operation (for which I was made an Associate Laureate in 2000). And the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has invited me, as in 2007, to help write the 2013 report.
I’m more interested than ever in transmitting knowledge. Publishing books – there will be others! – is, of course, one way to do this. But so is a photo exhibit or…a documentary movie. In a few weeks I’ll be in Peru to film the Qoyllur Rit’i pilgrimage, on a commission from the French television network Arte, which is preparing a series on the world’s glaciers. It’s a new challenge…because we mustn’t stop talking about climate change, the biggest crisis of our time.Learn more about Bernard Francou