In keeping with my other bodies of work, which each form part of a long-term study of the Anthropocene, Milliseconds to Midnight will look at societal changes brought about by advancements in technology, engineering, energy, and a growing devotion to fossil fuels and their by-products. Using found historical photographs, collected through flea-markets, online auction sites and personal collections, I will be repurposing the images from their original context (family portraits, holiday snaps, etc) and instead using them as evidential material to highlight small changes in the way we lived, that eventually led us to where we are now, with our current, global climate crisis.
This blog will become a visual timeline for the next 6 months or so. A place to generate ideas, and to share my findings of extraordinary photographs. It is by no means a collection of finished work, but much more of a research timeline.
Firstly, the answer to the question, “Why call the project Milliseconds To Midnight?”
I recently discovered this incredible fact:
“If you compressed the whole of Earth’s unimaginably long history into a single day, the first humans that look like us would appear at less than four seconds to midnight.” - (The Human Planet - How We Created The Anthropocene, Simon L. Lewis and Mark A. Maslin, Pelican Books, 2018)
Our current geological period, named as the Anthropocene by Paul J. Crutzen in 2000, has not yet been given a definitive starting moment. Many believe it began around the time of the industrial revolution (late 18th century), a period of time that we have identified as showing the first signs of raised CO2 levels in the atmosphere. Taking this into account, it becomes almost inconceivable for me to understand how human actions have had such disastrous consequences on our natural environment, in a very short period of time. But I must accept this fact. Human actions now effect the climate more than any other natural process on Earth. Placing the Anthropocene into the 24-hour historical timeline, this period of geological and environmental change occurs at just milliseconds to midnight. (I’m no mathematician, so if someone can work this out more accurately then please do get in touch).
The title also resonates with the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday clock, which currently sits at 2 minutes to midnight. The clock is a symbolic clock face, that represents the countdown to potential global catastrophe, either nuclear or climate related.
For the purpose of this blog I’m going to kick things off with the image above. It shows a steam train hurtling down the track. I’ve chosen this image as the first because in terms of the history of the Anthropocene, the development of the steam train is a defining moment. It signifies incredible growth throughout the UK, eventually spreading into Europe and beyond, opening up opportunities for industrial expansion, and new routes of exploration for people. As the UK rail network grew, so did the demand for coal, of which the UK soon became the world’s largest exporter. Although this picture was undoubtedly taken in the 20th century, here lies a moment, innocently captured by an unknown person (can we call them a photographer?), that displays the raw power of fossil fuels and British engineering, with its underlying, climate-damaging, side-effects.