A couple, wearing bulky ski boots on their feet, one a helmet and the other a wool cap on their heads, stand embracing on a bare mountain lookout. The peaks in the background are half-covered with snow, as if to justify the absurdity of the scene. In another country, a woman bathing in a turquoise pool takes in the view of a limitless desert. The pristine blue of the water and the red of the woman’s swimsuit contrast with the monochrome landscape stretching as far as the eye can see. Marco Zorzanello has shot three series of photographs: in Israel, where water wars are brewing; in the Italian Alps, where snow cannons whiten the slopes; and in Canada and Greenland, where the ice pack is melting and breaking up. While these images may seem funny at first, with their off-beat sense of irony and the classic portrait of the tourist as a clown, they quickly reveal a more unsettling problem, namely climate change.
The ice rush
For several years now, the Italian photographer has been documenting how the tourism industry is responding to the consequences of environmental decline. “I chose to approach climate change from the perspective of tourism because in our Western societies vacation represents a dream, a time we look forward to throughout the year. And this form of enjoyment is also endangered,” Zorzanello explains. In the Arctic region, villages proclaim to be iceberg capitals to attract hordes of tourists. All resources are put at the visitors’ disposal so that they can revel in the magical, as well as tragic, spectacle of floating mountains. “Climate change is inexorably changing the ecosystem in this part of the world, leading to the breakup of ever larger and more numerous icebergs. In this apocalyptic scenario, the rising tourist presence in some provinces of Canada and Greenland seems even more surprising,” comments Zorzanello in the Introduction to his project.
His series forcefully underscores the magnitude of two paradoxical phenomena. On one hand, the quantity of ice floating offshore evokes the speed at which the Arctic is melting: according to NASA, Arctic sea ice has been decreasing at an average rate of 13.1% per decade since 1981. On the other hand, tourist infrastructure is growing exponentially: a skate park with a view of the icebergs off-shore, crowded boats circling them, fishermen and glacier ice vendors, and ubiquitous road signs pointing to tourist attractions.
Skiing on the green
Marco Zorzanello had already studied this paradox in Italy, in the Dolomites, where T-shirts had replaced down jackets on the ski slopes. His photographs depict a handful of white trails marking artificial ski slopes in an otherwise uniformly brown landscape. “The Dolomites ski resort (Dolomiti Superski), one of the largest in the world, provides artificial snow on 750 miles of slopes and can accommodate up to 630,000 skiers per hour. Despite the lack of natural snow, the influx of tourists has actually increased in recent years.” On one side, snowmakers go about their business, aided by a team of dump trucks, cannons, and snow groomers. On the other, the leisure industry spawns fantasy worlds, complete with yetis, brightly colored bouncy castles, tepees, sleighs, and other such contemporary sculptures scattered across the slopes.
Despite the absurdity of certain scenes, there is no judgment here. It is more a question of studying a community’s reaction to the economic, social, and cultural collapse that would result from the closure of ski resorts. Planted in a patch of residual snow, the neon-orange sign “Closed” bars an expanse of faded grass and fir trees, like a warning at the edge of a precipice. Doesn’t anyone feel the urge to rename it? Or is this a way of preserving the illusion?
Squeezing the last drop
Zorzanello has documented the climate change denialism most acutely on the shores of the Dead Sea in Israel. “The tourist industry shows its contradictions even in the driest of places: the Negev Desert. An artificial lake welcomes visitors to the Timna Archaeological Park, while luxury hotels and swimming pools guarantee a breathtaking vacation, at any cost.”
While the level of Lake Tiberias, Israel’s main source of fresh water, had fallen in 2018 below the red threshold of 700 feet below sea level, tourism continues to exploit this rare and vital resource, without provoking any other reaction than a shrug. Straddling a camel, a tourist proudly poses in front of a sea-level marker that will never again see water. This is tragicomedy at its climax. A skull-and-crossbones sign warning against drinking water seems to announce the demise, not of the person who might drink it, but of water itself. One can easily imagine a sign forbidding swimming planted in the middle of a desert or pilgrims getting baptized in a bank of sand.
By Laurence Cornet
Laurence Cornet is the editorial manager at Dysturb, a journalist specializing in photography, and an independent exhibition curator based in Paris.
To learn more about Marco Zorzanello, visit www.marcozorzanello.com
To learn more about the 6Mois Photojournalism Award, visit: www.4revues.fr/6mois