A Space to Confront Climate Change Documentary Exhibit in San Francisco


The Coal + Ice exhibit in San Francisco’s Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture features the work of over 40 photographers from around the world. Photo by Sarah Carpenter.

Coal + Ice is making its US debut in San Francisco, filling the 50,000-square-foot Festival Pavilion at the Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture with a climate-themed immersive  documentary photography and video exhibition.

The pavilion is vast and dark, illuminated by larger-than-life photographs on screen walls segmenting the open space. The photographs themselves create the pathways for visitors to experience the exhibit.

Some photo collections are constructed with four screen walls, one photo per wall, creating an immersive experience.

The work of Nichole Sobecki, a Kenya-based photographer, is set up this way. Sobecki has spent the past seven years in Somalia, which she said is the “dictionary definition of a failed state.” She said that the environment is an important and often forgotten factor of the conflict Somalia has been going through for the last 25 years.

Her photos show devastated landscapes and resilient people, and the exhibit displays them on every side of the visitor.

“When you’re trying to document climate change, it’s really a challenge to get people to engage,” Sobecki said. “There’s a sense that there’s nothing we can do about it, and then people just shut off.”

She and writer Laura Heaton worked together for two years exploring the links between conflict and the environment in Somalia, one of the areas hardest hit by climate change, and trying to bring to life the immediacy of this issue. “It’s something that has to be addressed now, not tomorrow,” she said.

Photographer Matt Black continues to photograph the impacts of drought in central California,  where he’s from and currently lives. He said it’s a part of California that doesn’t get enough attention or services, and is sometimes called the ‘other California.’ “It’s a privilege to do this work,” he said.

At the exhibit’s far end, two massive screens depicting the abstract work of Clifford Ross, who programmed moving pixels to mimic waves of water, leave the visitor in awe of water, and of nature. The art work evokes the raw power of natural elements, and while it is stunningly beautiful, it is somewhat ominous within this exhibit.

The exhibit, co-curated by Magnum photographer Susan Meiselas, and renowned exhibition designer Jeroen de Vries, is scheduled to coincide with  Gov. Jerry Brown’s Global Climate Action Summit as a cultural accompaniment.

Other events include “YouthSpeaks: An Evening of Spoken Word and Entertainment” on Sept. 21; and “The Fire Tapes: A Special Storytelling Event from Snap Judgement and KQED” on Sept. 22.

Admission to the exhibit is free. Some events are free and may require registration.  For information visit CoalAndIce.org.


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