Did you know that 11th February was International Day of Women and Girls in Science?
No? Nor did I. Not until I attended the Royal Photographic Society's 'Woman Science Photographer of the Year' awards in Bristol.
What has science got to do with photography? I hear you thinking.
Well...... photography has been used to document scientific processes, and also in scientific and medical imaging. But it is also used to raise awareness of scientific issues, and amongst these, which is where I come in, comes raising awareness of environmental issues.
So it was a great honour to have one of my 'Shore Life' series chosen as a finalist in the RPS Woman Science photographer of the Year 2023 competition. The image above shows ghost fishing gear collected from the shore at Camber Sands beach. Discarded fishing gear is just one of the many issues affecting our seas and oceans. Sewage discharges , plastic pollution and farming practices are others. We read about it daily in our newspapers, and yet change is slow to come.
This is all quite heavy and serious, but the presentations at the RPS women in photography group's 'Woman Science Photographer of the Year' were both uplifting and inspiring.
First up a live Zoom interview with Rhiannon Adam 'Space Cowboy'. Talking to us from the middle of the night in America, Rhiannon described how she has been selected as the only female artist to go on a space mission for a new space-inspired art project #dearMoon hosted by Yusaku Maezawa, a Japanese entrepreneur. This will be the first civilian mission to the moon and Mars, and on board will be 8 artists selected form one million worldwide. Rhiannon describes the trip as a 'blue marble moment', with artists reflecting on the earth from afar.
All my own adventures pale into insignificance at the thought of this mission. Rhiannon plans to use analogue methods of photography in a zero gravity environment. That in itself is extraordinary.
She expects to go into orbit either this year or next. I can't wait to see how she gets on.
We heard, too, from photographer Fanny Beckman about her project 'Women in Science'.
Fanny was invited to make portraits of women scientists at the Centre for Gene Therapy at Kings College Hospital. Fanny described the 'leaky pipe' that is the journey followed by women in science to the top of their profession. The fallout along the way due to prejudice, other commitments and imposter syndrome means that few reach the top of their career ladder.
Encouraging girls at schools to aspire to a science career was one goal for this project.
Fanny recommends the Netflix Documentary 'Picture a Scientist' (2020) for a deeper dive into this topic.
So who was the winner of this year's competition?
It was Margaret LeJeune, from the US, with her 'watershed triptych'.
The images highlight another aspect of water pollution in our rivers; pollutants from farming practices. The method of capturing these images is quite extraordinary; to use Margaret's own words..... as I don't think I can edit them without losing the sense of her summary...
'Watershed Triptych harnesses the light of bioluminescent dinoflagellates to illuminate watershed maps from the United States Geological Survey Hydromap project. These organisms, colloquially known as sea sparkle, are also the same marine life that generate red tide algal blooms. Though sometimes naturally occurring, these harmful blooms have been increasing in numbers over the past 30 years as larger and more powerful storms flood factory farms causing excessive nutrients to spill into the waterways from CAFO overflows. These maps represent the three largest watersheds in the United States and the outflow areas where algal blooms have been recorded.'
Using 'sea sparkle' to illuminate the maps of watersheds was challenging, and keeping the organisms happy in the laboratory took patience and much experimentation.
Having listened to Margaret's story I feel challenged to think of new ways to express my personal concerns for the environment. It is not easy to be truly innovative. All we can do is keep trying to find ways to raise awareness without sounding like a broken record.
So I came away from my day in Bristol feeling humbled, and inspired.
You can see more of the selected imageshere.
Meanwhile, I am slowly building up my 'Shore Life' series, from which my 'Ghost Fishing Gear' image was selected.
Here are a couple of recent ones.... one contains a plastic brush found washed up on the beach, and the other a sparkly sandal left by a visitor.
I'll let you work out which is which.
Caroline Fraser - an ordinary life
on life, suburban living, art, creativity, photography, book art and travel.
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Welcome to Caroline Fraser Photography
Colourful abstracted and traditional photographic landscapes, book art and workshops. Capturing the moods and beauty of nature whether in wild open places or in small sanctuaries in suburbia.