“Seasons of Life and Land will surely become a classic of American environmental consciousness. It is impeccably researched, intelligently conceived, astonishingly observant and radiant with love for its subject. … Potentially, they [Subhankar’s photographs] are as influential as the massive Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska that saved the refuge [Arctic National Wildlife Refuge] from the drillers in 1989. They should make even the most gung–ho believer in the American public’s absolute right to cheap gasoline feel uncomfortable.”
Subhankar Banerjee is an Indian born American photographer, writer and activist. Over the past decade he has been a leading voice on issues of Arctic conservation, indigenous human rights, resource wars and climate change. He has also done work in the American southwest that addresses desert ecology, and forest deaths from climate change. His current research focuses on the intersection of ecocultural activism and environmental humanities—environmental philosophy, environmental history and ecocriticism. His photographs, writing and lectures have reached millions of people around the world.
“By the time Senator Boxer displayed one of his polar bear pictures, Banerjee had moved beyond the dueling frontier visions that have tended to frame the debate over oil drilling. Perhaps he had realized as well that these visions ultimately reinforce one another, as they both portray ANWR [Arctic National Wildlife Refuge] as a remote place, disconnected from everyday life. Banerjee’s striking aesthetic compositions, together with his attention to ecological context, reframe the Arctic landscape and question some of the reigning assumptions about the relationship between nature and culture in modern America. His work makes viewers feel closer to the Arctic, not only by offering memorable portrayals of the region, but also by repeatedly reminding them of the ties that bind this distant land to their own lives.”
—Finis Dunaway, “Reframing the Last Frontier: Subhankar Banerjee and the Visual Politics of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge”, in A Keener Perception: Ecocritical Studies in American Art History, eds. Alan C. Braddock and Christoph Irmscher (The University of Alabama Press, 2009)
“The word arctic is derived from the ancient Greeks, for whom arktos meant the Bear (or North) Star. To those of us who live amidst today’s suburbs and strip malls—places where space shuttles and satellite TV have become familiar topics of everyday conversation—the stars may now seem far closer than they did to the ancient Greeks. In contrast, the Arctic evoked with such stark beauty in Subhankar Banerjee’s photos remains a remote and forbidding world. … So as much as Subhankar Banerjee’s photos reveal an unfamiliar and austere physical landscape, they also open up a new and discomforting intellectual terrain. … Banerjee’s images remind us, the Arctic, despite its name, is not as distant as the stars, and its inhabitants do not dwell in a world geographically or chronologically separate from our own. Whatever happens in the Arctic will eventually happen—indeed, has already begun to happen—to us all.”
—Karl Jacoby, “The Near North”, in Subhankar Banerjee: Photographs, Dartmouth College, 2009
“Aerial photography is the language of war. Generals have always sought out high places to survey their battlefields. … Subhankar Banerjee wields this vocabulary in his portfolio Resource Wars, skillfully combining it with rich visual references to photographic and painterly traditions. … Banerjee is not the first photographer to attempt to awaken the American public to the wealth of this nation’s natural beauty, and he won’t be the last. But his argument takes on a particular urgency and topicality that has not been seen since the Great Western Railway survey photographs of the mid–nineteenth century. … The photographs of Resource Wars are certainly a feast for the eyes. … But their raison d´être, their main purpose, is to compose a powerful argument and to feed the intellect. They leave us with more questions than answers.”
—Kelley E. Wilder, “Resource Wars”, in Subhankar Banerjee: Resource Wars, Sundaram Tagore Gallery, 2008
“ Banerjee is concerned with…a relay between media and survival [as Judith Butler writes in, Frames of War: When is Life Grievable?], which he stages in terms of the specific formal and historical problems pertaining to photography as a medium. The images exemplify [Eduardo] Cadava’s axiom that “there can be no image that is not about destruction and survival, and this is especially the case in the image of ruin” … Banerjee’s images are “images of ruin” … The uncanniness of landscape identified by [Jean–Luc] Nancy…is exacerbated by Banerjee throughout his oeuvre… Marked by traces, trails, and vestiges of a global ecological history…Banerjee’s uncanny landscapes speak to a project of climate justice… To paraphrase Walter Benjamin’s remark on Eugene Atget—Banerjee photographs every single inch of the Arctic as if it were the scene of a crime.”
—Yates McKee, “Of Survival: Climate Change and Uncanny Landscape in the Photography of Subhankar Banerjee”, in Impasses of the Post–Global: Theory in the Era of Climate Change, Vol. 2, ed. Henry Sussman (Open Humanities Press, 2012)
From July 2010 till June 2012, he worked with little sleep to edit an anthology on the Arctic. With help of two successive residencies—Director’s Visitor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and Distinguished Visiting Professor at Fordham University in New York; and a generous grant from the Alaska Wilderness League, on 3 July 2012, ARCTIC VOICES: RESISTANCE AT THE TIPPING POINT was published by Seven Stories Press—with essays and testimonies by 34 indigenous activists, conservationists, scientists and writers, and photographs and drawings by 16 artists. An updated paperback edition was published with a new conversation between Dr. James Hansen and Subhankar, on 22 September 2013. After you read the text and see the photos in Arctic Voices, Subhankar writes that “you will begin to think and talk about the Arctic differently than you did before. And perhaps you’ll find an answer to the question, ‘Why should I care about the Arctic?’”
His work has become instrumental in the conservation efforts of several ecoculturally significant areas of the American Arctic, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Teshekpuk Lake wetlands, Utukok River uplands, and the Beaufort and Chukchi seas. He works closely with the Gwich’in and Inupiat indigenous communities of the North American Arctic, and with environmental organizations Alaska Wilderness League, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, and others. He also visited the Eveny and Yukaghir indigenous communities in the Yakutia province of Siberia.
Subhankar has engaged not only with the far—the Arctic, but also the near—the desert, where he lived. From 2006 till 2010, he walked regularly in all seasons, in about a five–mile radius around his home, in New Mexico, and made photographs—to understand the desert ecology and address the massive forest deaths due to global warming. With support from the Lannan Foundation, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth presented a one–person exhibition of the desert series in 2011, WHERE I LIVE I HOPE TO KNOW, which was curated by Dr. Jessica May. Select photographs from the desert series were also included in the group exhibition, EARTH NOW: AMERICAN PHOTOGRAPHERS AND THE ENVIRONMENT at the New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe.
His photographs have been exhibited in more than fifty museums and galleries around the world, including the 18TH BIENNALE OF SYDNEY: ALL OUR RELATIONS, in Sydney, Australia, in 2012. Between 2004 and 2011, four monographs of his photographs were published: The Last Wilderness: Photographs of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge by Gerald Peters Gallery (2004), Resource Wars by Sundaram Tagore Gallery (2008), Subhankar Banerjee: Photographs by Dartmouth College (2009), and Where I Live I Hope to Know by the Amon Carter Museum of American Art with essays by Subhankar and curator Dr. Jessica May (2011). In 2014, his photographs are being shown at the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College in Hanover, Tufts University Art Gallery in Boston, and the Whatcom Museum in Bellingham.
In 2007, Subhankar started writing. Since then, his essays have appeared in many publications and anthologies, including the Los Angeles Review of Books, Third Text journal special issue “Contemporary Art and the Politics of Ecology,” Alaska Native Reader: History, Culture, Politics (Duke University Press, 2009), All Our Relations (the 18th Biennale of Sydney, 2012), Photography Changes Everything (Aperture and Smithsonian Institution, 2012), and The Scholar and Feminist webjournal special issue “Gender on Ice” (Barnard Center for Research on Women, Fall 2008). His blog essays regularly appear in various progressive publications, including CLIMATESTORYTELLERS.ORG (that he founded in 2010), AlterNet, Common Dreams, Counter Currents, Counter Punch, Huffington Post, TomDispatch, Truthdig, and Truthout.
While his Arctic work has gotten much attention, Subhankar feels that we need to also pay close attention to the desert. The impacts of global warming in the American southwest is just as severe, as it is in the Arctic. For more information about his engagement with the American desert, see his essay “Where I Live I Hope to Know” (HERE) and Jessica May’s essay “The Detective” (HERE) in the monograph published by the Amon Carter Museum of American Art; his blog essays “Could This Be a Crime?” in 2010 (HERE), “Boulder Flooding: Remembering Warnings from Weather Report” in 2013 (HERE); and his interview with Jaisal Noor of The Real News Network in 2013 (HERE).
“The [desert] photographs Banerjee made are…the product of a set of given circumstances in terms of the systematic walk, the small camera, and the animating questions. Yet in a real way they follow the methods of the gumshoe, the artist–detective. … They offer the promise that looking closely is a way of learning not just of the marvels of the faraway, but also fine textural details that sustain our everyday relationship to nature. … The Desert Archive not only created a visual record of the destruction of the forests but became a way for Banerjee to piece together the disparate bits of information to understand the ecology of his local landscape. The broad, looping narratives he uncovered were multiple and sometimes contradictory… In the final stages of the project, Banerjee tipped his camera toward the shifting gray skies to remind himself and future viewers that in the end so much depends on rain.”
—Jessica May, “The Detective”, in Subhankar Banerjee: Where I Live I Hope to Know, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, 2011
Subhankar’s many media interviews include, The Real News Network with Jaisal Noor (2013), Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez (2012), Think Radio with Krys Boyd (KERA—NPR Dallas/Fort Worth) (2011), If You Love This Planet with Dr. Helen Caldicott (2011), IdentityTheory.com with Alexandra Tursi (2010), Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman in Copenhagen during the UN COP15 climate change conference (2009), Institute of Physics: Once A Physicist (2008), and WBUR–NPR On–Point with Tom Ashbrook (2003). His stories have been featured in multiple television productions, including LinkTV’s “Refuge at Risk” (2003), Pittsburgh’s WQED “Arctic Warrior” (2007), and Sundance Channel’s series “Big Ideas for A Small Planet,” season 1, episode Create (2007). Profile stories about his work have appeared in many publications—in Pratidin by Nabaneeta Dev Sen (in Bengali READ ONLINE 2007), Vanity Fair by Ingrid Sischy (DECEMBER 2003), The Seattle Times Sunday Magazine by Lynda V. Mapes (21 MARCH 2004), Seattle Post–Intelligencer by Regina Hackett (25 JUNE 2005), livemint:The Wall Street Journal, India, by Ananda Banerjee (5 AUGUST 2012), The Telegraph, Kolkata, India, by G. S. Mudur (14 APRIL 2013), and the India Abroad by Monali Sarkar (30 AUGUST 2013).
Subhankar has given over one hundred lectures, and participated in numerous panels, across the United States and Europe. Some of his notable lectures include, keynote speech “Long Environmentalism” at the Society for Literature, Science and the Arts annual conference PostNatural at the University of Notre Dame (2013), artist lecture at the Where Are We Going, Walt Whitman? annual series at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie of Fine Arts and Design in Amsterdam (2013), keynote speech at the Next North Symposium at the Anchorage Museum (2012), keynote speech at the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment biennial conference Species, Space and the Imagination of the Global at the Indiana University (2011), the Annual Rapaport Lecture in Contemporary Art at Amherst College (2011), and lectures at the Themester: sustain·ability: Thriving on a Small Planet series at the Indiana University (2010), Critical Encounters—Human|Nature annual series at the Columbia College in Chicago (2009) and the Annual Lyceum II Lecture with Peter Matthiessen at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City (2008); and an event "Wilderness and the Imagination" with David Allen Sibley and Terry Tempest Williams at the Benaroya Symphony Hall hosted by the Seattle Arts and Lectures that was attended by 2500 people (2005). In 2013, in a Lannan Foundation In Pursuit of Cultural Freedom lecture by Dr. James Hansen, Subhankar introduced Dr. Hansen and and then engaged him in a conversation after the talk (2013). Some of his notable panels participation include, the Eco-aesthetics: Contemporary Art and the Politics of Ecology conference at the University College London (2013), The Anthropocene: Planet Earth in the Age of Humans—a Smithsonian Grand Challenges Symposium at the Smithsonian Institution (2012), The Art of Sustainability panel at Princeton University (2011), Art+Environment conference at the Nevada Museum of Art (2011), Gender on Ice conference at the Barnard College (2008), Unlearning Intolerance: Art Changing Attitudes Toward the Environment symposium at the United Nations Headquarters in New York (2008), and an United Nations Environment Programme Climate Change symposium at the Palais des Beaux–Arts in Brussels (2007). Since 2003 he has also given lectures at the Princeton University Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Harvard University Museum of Natural History, Columbia University Earth Institute, Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College, University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, Stanford University, University of Washington, and the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. In 2004, Subhankar did a Lannan Foundation Cultural Freedom event with writer Peter Matthiessen and Gwich’in elder Sarah James, which he remembers with much fondness.
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Subhankar has received many awards for his efforts, including an inaugural Cultural Freedom Fellowship from Lannan Foundation (2003), an inaugural Greenleaf Artist Award from United Nations Environment Programme (2005), National Conservation Achievement Award from National Wildlife Federation (2003), Special Achievement Award from Sierra Club (2003), Housberg Award from Alaska Conservation Foundation (2002), and was named an Arctic Hero by Alaska Wilderness League (2010). He has been a visiting scholar at the graduate program in environmental humanities at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Artist–in–Residence at Dartmouth College, Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Department of Art History and Music at Fordham University in New York, Visiting Fellow at the Forbes College of Princeton University, and DIRECTOR’S VISITOR at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. In 2011 Subhankar was awarded a DISTINGUISHED ALUMNUS AWARD by the New Mexico State University, and in 2012 a CULTURAL FREEDOM AWARD by the Lannan Foundation.