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Tragic Beauty

“Activist with a Camera”


Excerpt from Issue 1 Love – Loss

Over the past six years Michael Hall has produced a captivating – and at times haunting – body of work. He loves the world so much and cares so much for its future, that he can’t help but capture its beauty and majesty in a way that shows how degraded we have become as blatantly wasteful people. In his work and in our conversations, Hall appears to be a man on a mission, a devoted activist, searcher, someone who – in both his profession and life – is seeking to change the way we see what we humans are doing on this planet. Here, he discusses how the planet has become his subject and how he feels it’s his mission to live by example and simplify his own existence.

What kind of photographer are you?

I am primarily an environmental photographer. When I started taking photographs back in the early 80s, I was a travel photographer and then I kind of settled in Wellington for a while and then settled in England travelling around Europe. So I became more of a corporate photographer and then I morphed into a commercial photographer. Through the 90s I was commercially based, mostly doing branding work for the likes of Qantas and Westpac, and a few big names like that. It was fabulous work. We used to travel a lot, take beautiful photographs, but it was for corporates. Making corporates look good, that’s what I used to do for a living.

What’s the project about?

It’s a fairly comprehensive and global catalogue of work concerning the causes, the effects and the solutions of climate change. It’s become a body of work I am using for educational purposes through my lectures, presentations, publications and so forth.

What drives you to find what you’re looking for in this particular project?

I feel very deeply that humanity is facing one hell of a big problem and will face a lot more in the future. I’m very, very concerned about the state of the planet, the state of all the creatures that we share this planet with, and the bio-diversity we are losing. What we have lost, and what we will be losing, if the powers-that-be have their way.

I’ve found myself in the role of being an activist with a camera. I want to right this wrong that I see quite blatantly happening and I want to be part of a process of kind of slapping the big guys across the face saying no, you can’t destroy my planet. And I’m doing everything in my power to create a better world for us.

It’s all I can do. I’m a photographer, that’s what I do, that’s what I do well and through my photography I’m telling the story of what’s going on here. There are a lot of people on board who are knowledgeable about what’s going on, and there’s an awful lot of people in the world who don’t know or possibly don’t even give a damn because they’re not confronted with what I feel is obvious.

I’m reading and travelling a lot and I’m seeing first hand not only the extent of the pollution that’s being placed on the planet but also the growth of populations and the demand for resources that the world is not coping with anymore.

What are people’s reaction when they see your work?

One thing I struggle with often is that there are people who are fully on board and understanding and knowledgeable about climate change and degradation of the environment; they see my work and they say bring it on, I congratulate you for doing that, fantastic. A lot of presentations I have given in the past are in front of audiences where I would say about 85-90% are already converted, that’s why they come to my lecture.

However, there is a small percentage who are of the other persuasion and they’re the people I’m trying to get to most of all, they’re the people I’m trying to shake up and say hey, have a think about this, it’s not only concerning you or me, but it’s concerning your children and generations to come and the world as a whole.

Is that your ultimate aim with the work that you’re doing?

Yeah, even if I just have a tiny part to play in bringing about a better, cleaner world then I’m thinking at least I’ve tried and I’ve done what I can. My ultimate aim is to bring an understanding to as wide an audience as possible. We’ve all got stuff to learn and I feel learning about the environment and what’s happened to our environment truly on a global scale should take precedence, but it doesn’t and I’m very frustrated about that.

How do you keep yourself grounded when you see all of this turmoil?

Inherently I’ve got a very inquisitive aspect to my nature. I love to travel, I love to experience, whether it be a good or a bad experience, it’s still an experience which enriches one’s life. I’ve seen some bad shit going down, but I’ve also seen some incredibly beautiful stuff as well. It’s good to put oneself in a position where one is challenged and to take something away from that in the sense of a capture on film and then present that to an audience of people, which is why I’m doing it. I’m not only doing it for myself, I’m doing it to show others what’s going down.

Do you think the simplicity of the way you live informs your creativity?

I have no doubt that it absolutely does. One great bonus that I have managed to formulate for myself is time and the value of having time to contemplate and structure my life accordingly to my principles. At this stage in life I am incredibly fortunate to be where I am, not only with a beautiful family, but two coming on three independent boys, a very supportive wife, the absolute gift of having a major purpose in life which is far greater than myself and the benefit of not only growing up but also living in a part of the world where I am afforded this luxury of being able to make choices. It’s a phenomenal bonus, as has been my profound life-changing episode which happened to me prior to me taking this project on, when I just about lost my life.

Can you share what that life changing event was?

Of course, it’s significant. At least for me it is. In 2007, whilst cycling I was run over by a semi-trailer and just about lost my life. I ended up in hospital with some pretty horrific injuries, twice broken back, a deep cut to the left arm, broken shoulder and elbow and significant rectal tearing and some pretty deep scarring. So in essence, I had my independence taken away from me. I was in a hospital bed laying on my back not being able to turn over for 15 days, arm in traction and my God, the journey I went through during that time was pretty profound. I certainly realised how strong the mind is when coping and adapting to a given circumstance, it was quite an amazing journey. And that journey only increased my resolve to get started on my project and use my ability as a photographer to do my part to bring about a better future.


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