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Beautiful Destruction

07/31/14

Tangerine expanses of an aluminum tailing pond, the cobalt tar sands from the controversial Keystone Pipeline, the mustard and ashen valleys of Smokes, Alaska. For the uniformed, it’s easy to assess photojournalist Colin Finlay’s aerial images as simply beautiful landscapes. (Earth, after all, is a pretty cool place.) With their intense pops of color and the impressive vastness of their topography, the images are admittedly remarkable, easily digested and pretty to look at. Unfortunately, Finlay wasn’t out to just take snaps of some geographical eye candy; what he’s documenting are the catastrophic consequences of climate change.

For decades, Finlay has been traveling the world capturing scenes of Earth’s destruction from a vantage point that could best convey its scale. From his place within a hovering helicopter, Finlay has been able to photograph never-before-seen images of everything from melting glaciers in Iceland to the dull swirls of soda ash from an African manufacturing facility polluting Lake Magadi in Kenya. It’s a confusing juxtaposition—to be simultaneously in awe of the image’s individual grandeur, and repulsed knowing its cause.

Finlay’s work proves itself to be a call to action, one that presents the world as a veritable jewel box that we’ve carelessly dropped into a veritable bucket of acid, standing above it while we bear witness to its crumbling exterior and inevitable decay. While these photographs possess their own aesthetic merit—the beautiful aftermath of a botched science experiment, perhaps—it’s pretty clear the earth would be even better without. 

Photos courtesy of Colin Finlay.