World Photography Day: Glimmers of Hope

August 5th, 2021
camera, flowers, and compass sitting atop a world map

World Photography day is August 19th. Looking back over the past year, countless events have pulled us apart and brought us together as a human race. One of the most consequential events, still in the forefront of many minds, has been a completely life changing experience for us all. In every corner of the world, we as a people have been affected by the spread of the COVID-19 virus which first began early in 2020.

The events that followed the start of what would become a global pandemic were unexpected and devastating. We were unprepared. And yet, amidst the fear, uncertainty, and loss shared by us all, the human condition prevailed; and lit the way forward with love, courage, and inspiration.

One afternoon, a month into quarantine, my partner walked around the side of my apartment with a folding chair to sit in front of my window as he had done many times before. This time we decided this time to crack the window just a few inches so we could intertwine our gloved fingers, our masked faces reflected in the window pane as we talked. We knew we were facing a very unclear future, and we needed to make some big decisions.

In the heat of the summer, my partner asked me to move in with him and face this thing together, and I took that leap. Fueled by hope, this decision led me on an exciting journey, and was the first step of many that led me to where I am today, writing this blog under the morning sun, sitting by the pond in our garden.

wildflowers backlit by golden sunshine

Early into the long road of the COVID lockdown, when information was scarce and vaccines were nowhere in sight, one of my oldest friends and her fiancé decided that nothing was going to stop them from officiating their love for each other. They had a short impromptu hometown wedding, on the beach in the pouring rain. My friend baked their cake, her now husband made their rings, and they both simply wore what they had in their closet.

Eventually this couple announced a plus one to their new family, and this news was followed by many other friends celebrating the start of their own little families.

In the face of these new challenging circumstances, we as a people quickly adapted. In spite of fear and uncertainty during a global pandemic, we bonded together in moments of love, courage, and hope. Routines changed drastically, and commuting and social gatherings came to an abrupt pause, but we prevailed and found new ways to be together and move forward. Beautiful and vibrant and ever moving – life goes on – and we found new ways to keep living.

While all over the world people made significant changes to their daily lives, the natural world we live in took notice of our empty streets, boatless waters and vacant beaches. While we were focused on adjusting to these new conditions, so were the skies, seas, and wildlife that share our home planet. Consequently, in our temporary absence, some beautiful and promising developments took place in our natural world and shared home.

Reflecting on these events leading up to World Photography day, I am inspired by the sheer prevalence and shared drive to live and thrive, by both our human race and our natural world.

I want to share with you some of these developments now- these quiet yet impactful moments in our natural world that are inspiring and uplifting, and that shine like glimmers of hope for us and our home planet. We’ve selected a collection of images from around the globe, highlighting World Photography Day photos to uplift and inspire both us and future generations.

1. A breath of fresh air in New Delhi, India – skies clear just 3 weeks into lockdown.

air quality before and after lockdown in New Delhi
Photo credit: Anushree Fadnavis/Adnan Abidi (Reuters)

New Delhi is featured on the world’s list of 20 most polluted cities, and even before Covid 19, residents were wearing masks, as air quality had reached “unbearable levels.” After the start of Covid 19 quarantine restrictions, this nation’s capitol experienced the longest period of clean air in recorded history, after just 21 days of lockdown in New Dehli.

Politician and author Shashi Tharoor wrote that the “blissful sight of blue skies and the joy of breathing clean air provides just the contrast to illustrate what we are doing to ourselves the rest of the time”.

Sarath Guttikunda, the head of Urban Emissions, an independent research group that provides air quality forecasts, stated “This was an unprecedented opportunity for us to take a close look at how air pollution levels have responded to an extraordinary development,” 

Will this literal breath of fresh air prompt a change in how this city will continue to interact with their environment?  

Arunabha Ghosh, Chief Executive Officer of the Council on Energy, Environment and Water, a leading climate think tank, hopes that “the experience of blue skies and fresh air could be a trigger to create a democratic demand for clean air in India”.

2. Abandoned beaches put Leatherback turtles in the mood for love.

baby sea turtles hatching on sandy beach
Photo credit: Reuters

Leatherback turtles are the largest sea turtles in the world, and are a vulnerable, rare and endangered species. They like to spawn in quiet secluded beaches and both tropical and temperate waters in a number of places on our planet.

During lockdown, these rare turtles are spawning in Thailand in the highest numbers seen in 20 years. This is a wonderful and inspiring improvement as the director of the Phuket Marine Biological Center noted that for the last 5 years, these new spawning areas simply did not exist.

In Florida, staff of Loggerhead MarineLife Center in Juno Beach are also recording significant increases in spawning nests compared to last year.

This is amazing news, as MarineLife center research shows only about one in every 1,000 hatchlings survives. In addition, their survival rate has decreased greatly on popular beaches with tourists and fishermen.

“We’re excited to see our turtles thrive in this environment,” stated Sarah Hirsch, the senior manager of research and data at MarineLife. “Our world has changed, but these turtles have been doing this for millions of years and it’s just reassuring and gives us hope that the world is still going on.”

3. I can see clearly now – the Himalayas are visible for the first time in decades.

In other parts of India, the drastic reduction in air pollution during lockdown has had some especially stunning results for the locals. The Himalayen Mountain range, the tallest mountain range in the world, is visible once again from more than 100 miles away. Residents are in complete awe as they get to experience this view that was previously hidden by smog and pollution for nearly 30 years.

the Himalayas behind a cityscape in India
Photo Credit: Paras Rishi

A local resident took to social media to post a picture taken from his home, of a sight he never could have dreamed of, stating “…Dhauladhar range (of the Himalayen Mountains) from my home rooftop in Jalandhar… Never could imagine that’s possible. Clear indication of the impact the pollution has done by us, to Mother Earth.”

In increasingly good news, it is not just India seeing these improvements; China, Italy and the Middle East have all reported falling air pollution levels. I am hopeful that this is something we will continue to see.

4. Wild boars see what they’ve been missing in the city.

wild boars walking through Haifa, Israel
Photo credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Haifa Israel​​ is set at the foot of Mount Carmel; a mountain range that is home to boars, foxes, and more.

Over the last couple of years, wild boars have pushed farther and farther out of their ravines and into the common city streets. Lured in repeatedly with the promise of treats from the city garbage, or even sometimes from willing hands, these boars are indeed becoming more local than wild.

A ban was placed in 2019 preventing the culling of wild boars in Haifa. Not too long after, when the quarantine for Covid19 took place and lockdowns left the streets empty of human activity, the city was left ripe for the plucking.

After the lockdown lifted, residents were faced with a huge spike in daily sightings of these confident boars that gladly moved in.

“I just had no idea there would actually be wild animals roaming the streets,” stated a local resident of more than a decade. “It seems appropriate in some way.”

“I wish we could all in Israel learn to live like they live in Haifa,” said Edna Gorney, a poet, ecologist and lecturer at the University of Haifa. “It’s an example of coexistence — not only between (citizens), but also between humans and wildlife.”

5. See the sea in Italy.

seaweed visible through clear waters in Venice canals
Photo credit: Andrea Pattaro

In Italy, a halt in commuting and boat traffic led to still and crystal clear waters. In the absence of human occupancy, animals and sealife are moving back in, and locals have witnessed a significant increase in sea life and fish in the Venice Canals, as well as a return of white swans. Most surprisingly and excitingly, residents are seeing something they haven’t witnessed in years- dolphins swimming through the Venice canals. One local who was able to catch a recording of a dolphin and her calf stated that the sight was “a great joy in a dark period for everyone,”

Another local, who has been been campaigning for a more eco-responsible, sustainable model of tourism in Venice for some time, stated “ People need to realise that if we control and cut down boat traffic in Venice and its lagoon then we could all discover a unique biosphere.”

This lockdown proved to be a hard hit on the economy of a city that relies on tourism, but residents are rediscovering the natural beauty of their city, inspiring this image’s inclusion as a World Photography Day feature.

“If you ask me today – sunny blue skies, clear canals – then, yes, we would all like Venice to stay like this for a while.” stated another local. “…I honestly believe we should take the opportunity of this lockdown to reflect and see how we can be more organised in the future to find a balance between the city and tourism.”

6. The galaxy shines brighter during the darkness of the lockdown.

Milky Way galaxy composite image
Photo credit: J-P Metsavainio

The last image on our list today is this stunning work by J-P Metsavainio, a Finnish photographer who specializes in astronomical imagery. This project is a composite image of our starry filled Milky Way Galaxy- the container of many nebulas and black holes, planets and constellations, and most importantly- our home.

From his home in Finland, taking 1,250 hours of photographic exposure over the span of more than a decade, Metsavainio created 234 individual mosaic panels that cover 125 degrees by 22 degrees of the night sky. He then compiled these panels into a single image mosaic. His tools were Photoshop, a LX200 GPS 12-inch telescope and a Canon EF 200-millimeter lens, though he later upgraded to an Apogee Alta U16 camera with a Tokina AT-x 300-millimeter lens.

In closing, this composite image of our galaxy reminds me that within this beautiful vast space we are lucky enough to exist in, this giant rock we inhabit is our home; and it’s the only home we have. It reminds me that in the grand scheme of things, we are all in this together. This World Photography Day, I hope these images inspire and serve to remind us; we need to work together, not just with each other as a people, but with our planet- our home.

During even some of our darkest hours as a human species, our planet has lit up our homes and our lives with glimmers of hope, inspiration, and grace. This past year we were forced to slow down, and while we were stuck inside looking out, we were able to really remember and appreciate this truly beautiful world we live in.

I think we should take these glimmers of hope as a message from our planet. Maybe we need to remember to slow down more often, and consider our planet more carefully. If these small temporary changes can happen in just a few weeks or in the span of a year, what else can we do to help our planet and preserve our home over the next year, or this decade?

Do these changes in our work, commute and transportation have to be temporary, or can this experience pave the way to a better future of working and living on and with our planet?

I think it can.

Sources:

1. https://www.insider.com/before-after-photos-show-less-air-pollution-during-pandemic-lockdown#before-in-2019-cnn-cited-dangerous-levels-of-pollution-in-new-delhi-describing-indias-capital-as-shrouded-in-a-toxic-throat-searing-cloud-of-brown-smog-7

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-52313972

2. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/apr/19/florida-leatherback-turtles-coronavirus-beaches

https://www.nwf.org/Educational-Resources/Wildlife-Guide/Reptiles/Sea-Turtles/Leatherback-Sea-Turtle

https://www.bangkokpost.com/thailand/general/1903505/deserted-beaches-lure-rare-turtles-to-build-most-nests-in-20-years

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-thailand-turtles/deserted-thai-beaches-lure-rare-turtles-to-build-most-nests-in-20-years-idUSKBN22207G

3. https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/himalayas-visible-lockdown-india-scli-intl/index.html

https://www.esquireme.com/content/45334-the-himalayas-are-visible-from-india-for-the-first-time-in-30-years-because-of-covid-19-lockdown

4. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/09/world/middleeast/haifa-israel-wild-boars.html

https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium.MAGAZINE-as-haifa-residents-stuck-inside-because-of-coronavirus-wild-boars-take-over-1.8766826

5. https://www.esquireme.com/content/44556-covid-19-upside-dolphins-return-to-the-venice-canals-as-humans-self-isolate

https://abcnews.go.com/International/venice-canals-clear-fish-coronavirus-halts-tourism-city/story?id=69662690

6. https://www.livescience.com/amazing-milky-way-mosaic.html

Eliina has an extensive background in illustration and design. She has been working at Zenfolio for the last 2 years helping photographers meet their business and website needs.