We may be speaking to each other via a tiny Zoom video frame, but I know that somewhere, there’s a huge elephant in the bright and airy room where Lucia Griggi sits, sunglasses on, in Portugal. And the award-winning wildlife, surf and travel photographer and director knows it’s there too.
“I’m aware my carbon footprint isn’t light – I’m travelling to remote areas by plane. I know I’m a part of the problem. But to reason with my conscience, I see it as a privilege to be able to photograph the changes I’m witnessing in these places, and to be able to bring some level of awareness home with me.”
Hot-weather surf destinations, end-of-the-road jungles and sub-zero polar regions are Lucia’s remote working spaces. But they’re spaces that are getting harder to work in as they get warmer, dirtier, and more crowded year to year.
“There’s a huge elephant in the bright and airy room where Lucia Griggi sits”
“Whatever way you look at it, it always comes back to the fact that there are just too many of us,” she reasons, when I ask her for a unifying factor in the environmental damage she’s witnessing. “But it’s important to remember that there is a lot of beauty in the world. Feeling a connection to it is what matters. I want my work to make people aware of what we stand to lose if we don’t act now.”
It’s why, in an interview that centres on the damage we’re doing to our green and blue spaces, you won’t see washed-up whales, choking rainforests and tearful tribes mourning the loss of their livelihoods. Whilst the context of her images have an ever-increasing sense of urgency to them, these stunning photographs from far-flung destinations serve as a reminder of what we’ll no longer experience, either through our own eyes or through a frame, if our actions, attitudes and behaviours don’t shift fast.
Here, Lucia has waded through her enormous catalogue of work to pull out these stunning images from her travels. The images all have an urgent environmental meaning behind them:
Polar Bears In The Russian Arctic, 2019
“Polar bears are beautiful subjects – despite being so heavy, they’re so graceful on ice. I love watching them climb out of the water – they turn black. As they shake off the water from their white coat their black skin is revealed.
“There just isn’t enough sea ice left to support them and the seals they hunt, so they’ve been forced to find food from urban areas”
“In 2019, I did an expedition to circumnavigate the Arctic. We used a Russian Icebreaker ship but, unbelievably, there was hardly any ice for it to break through. Most of the sea ice that we did find was between two Soviet cities, and it was there that we found bears: they were swimming into the busy ports to raid the city’s bins for food. There just isn’t enough sea ice left to support them and the seals they hunt, so they’ve been forced to find food from urban areas.
“In all my years of working in these areas, I’ve never seen polar bears so close to human civilisations. What’s equally as worrying to me is that in the twenty days I spent on this expedition looking for polar bears, I saw very few families. I don’t know how else to put it: polar bears will be gone very soon as a direct result of the loss of sea ice.”
Waves In Fiji, 2012
“Returning to Fiji a number of years after my first visit, I was devastated to see how much things had changed in such a short amount of time. Crystal-clear waters I first encountered were chocked full of plastic – there wasn’t one day when I didn’t see floating plastic bottles.
“There wasn’t one day when I didn’t see floating plastic bottles”
“In the water, I’d paddle out through a layer of surface oil from all the boats taking new hordes of tourists to surf, dive, or spot wildlife. I felt the same way when I went back to the Maldives ten years after my first trip there. The lack of living reef is horrifying. And the feeling of being totally cut off from the rest of the world is now totally gone – sitting on the northern atoll now, instead of seeing nothing but horizon, you see Mali and all its new high-rise buildings. I don’t think I could ever go back to the Maldives – as the issues are caused by overpopulation, I’d feel too much a part of the problem.
“To be honest, I’ve pretty much stopped my surf travel. I’ve seen too many beautiful places turn into row upon row of beachside resorts, where every day I witnessed staff sweeping muck directly into the water. It’s a gigantic problem that we’re just not comprehending.”