Between following firefighters in Washington’s Methow Valley and the semi-nomadic Sami reindeer herders of Norway, Sara Joy Steele and Benjamin Drummond are putting together some innovative chapters in their large-scale documentary project Facing Climate Change, in which they examine the world’s changing climate through its effects on local people.
Drummond’s photographs are often breathtaking motion shots or strikingly intimate portraits. The installments that feel most successful as narratives are those that make extensive or exclusive use of the voices of their subjects, as with “Joe King on Fire Suppression” or the side project “Sustainable Prisons.”
Unlike a traditional narrative’s focus on a single subject, Drummond and Steele often use material from individuals in a group to assemble a larger story about a place or a way of life. While the final productions can be text-heavy and predictably return to the problem of climate change, it’s not always in the way readers might expect—as with reindeer herders who talk about the issues that are more immediate than global warming in their lives.
We see this approach to narrative more and more: fundraising and self-funding to report individual stories that have policy implications. Later this month, we’ll look at how having funders with an agenda might change the nature of the narratives that emerge.