Skip to content

Subhankar Banerjee to speak at Stanford

May 3, 2012

If you happen to be in the Bay Area next week, stop by Stanford University for a talk by‘s Subhankar Banerjee (I previously mentioned Banerjee and his work here).

Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point

Thursday, May 10th 2012; 6:00-8:00 PM


Banerjee’s work as a documentarian of climate change in the Arctic has had national coverage; his photograph of a polar bear out on the ice was used as a backdrop for Barbara Boxer’s [D California] impassioned plea for the listing of polar bears as threatened due to climate change on the senate floor and he has been a regular contributor to the HuffingtonPost, garnering no little attention from such luminaries as BP for his efforts. As a photographer and a writer, he persistently pursues a multifaceted, multidimensional, and multigeneric approach to the Arctic—perhaps the only approach that can represent the complex and conflicted area (especially when the complexity of climate change is added to the mix).

On his website, his engagement is thus described:

Subhankar’s Arctic series [of photographs] began in 2000 with a desire to live with polar bears in the wild. Over the years his many romantic ideas were shattered, and his vision has since evolved into a visual exploration of the Arctic’s connection to larger global issues such as, resource wars, climate change, toxic migration, and human rights struggles of the northern indigenous communities.

Unlike Timothy Treadwell (featured in Werner Herzog’s 2005 documentary Grizzly Man) who, unfortunately, did not give up his romantic ideals about wilderness, bears, and cross-species identification, Banerjee, through the shattering of his romantic ideals, gestures towards a new frame for imagining north beyond the cliché of the romantic sublime. Banerjee thinks through a more inclusive approach to what he terms “land as home” through “ecocultural rights.” Ecocultural rights, according to Banerjee, encompass an understanding of lived environments as inclusive to not only a human right to a flourishing life (often used in the discourse that indigenous communities need extractive resource based economies in order to survive) but also the rights of other species and even systems of land, seas, and other watersheds; in short, an eco-systemic approach that takes into consideration that humans—and human culture—shape our understanding and ability to live on and with the land. This formulation identifies and rectifies what is troubling in the invocation of simply a human rights discourse in pleas for indigenous recognition of homeland and economic and political security. Karl Jacoby sums this up succinctly (in an epigraph to one of Banerjee’s essays): “We need, in short, a history that regards humans and nature not as two distinct entities but as interlocking parts of a single, dynamic whole.”

Banerjee’s essays and, most particularly, his photographs engage these concepts as he frames people, animals, and landscapes interacting and moving through “stories” together. I put “stories” in quotes because as the saying goes, a picture tells a thousand words, but they do not necessarily say the same words to every viewer. Banerjee’s lively photographs create contexts as well as spaces for engagements that are not predetermined or determining, but draw forth wonder, melancholy, nostalgia, passion, and love from viewers, whether it is a picture of a herd of caribou, a mother polar bear with her cubs, the proverbial “empty” landscape of a tundra hillside or an indigenous hunter gutting and skinning a caribou.

Banerjee, through his photographs, offers a way in which to come to terms with vast space while simultaneously acknowledging, and refuting, the standard tropological framework that governs how non-Arctic people perceive Arctic and Sub-arctic landscapes. Banerjee reframes the Arctic and Sub-arctic through the lens of inhabitation (rather than through emptiness, loss or waste), bringing the two climatic regions together through how people and animals live in the world together.

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Lisbet Norris - Anadyr Siberians Blog

“The boundaries one has to break are no longer geographical, but literary.”

Ken Ilgunas

“The boundaries one has to break are no longer geographical, but literary.”

Stop and Smell the Lichen

“The boundaries one has to break are no longer geographical, but literary.”

Okanagan Okanogan

Reclaiming the Art of Living on the Earth

Reading Fragments

short commentaries & brief expositions

academic kitchen

where nerds cook up a storm

%d bloggers like this: