For decades, photographer Michel Comte was a powerhouse in the fashion world, best known for the intimacy and seductive magnetism that his portraits exuded. His lifelong passion for nature, however, was lesser known.
“Concerns with the environment have been part of who I am for as long as I can remember,” says the Swiss-born photographer, who traces his passion back to seeing his grandfather’s 1914 photographs of the Alps. For the avid climber, a chance meeting with a group of scientists in the Tibetan Himalayas and their warning of global warming triggered his awareness of climate change. During subsequent climbs, his sense of urgency increased with the visible retreat of glaciers’ masses, and the absence of snow in certain areas of British Columbia and Mount Kilimanjaro.
Ultimately, Comte says, ”It was about nine years ago that I decided it was time to officially stop most of my commercial work to focus on this passion [saving the planet].”
A duo of two newly opened major exhibitions in Italy serve as Comte’s public call to action, springing beyond photography into video, sculpture, and installation based on his Arctic travels. At the November 14 debut of “Light,” on view at the Maxxi Museum in Rome, he transformed the sinuous Zaha Hadid–designed curves of the building into the craggy surfaces of a glacier by projecting his own landscape footage onto the façade for an entire week. Inside, glass sculptures still encase shards of ice kept at the temperature of the North Pole. In the darkened galleries of Milan’s Triennale museum, the centerpiece of Comte’s second exhibition “Black Light, White Light” is Glacier Lake, a reflective basin of water filled with crinkled space blankets that resemble floating bodies of ice. Nearby, rough-hewn sculptures of Murano glass and granite dust are dramatically spotlighted.
In 2018, Comte plans to bring his work in more locations around the world. His message is that while conditions are dire, immediate action leaves space for hope.
“This exhibition could be relevant at any time within the past decades, but I believe now it became more urgent than ever,” says Comte. “With the recent news of President Trump pulling out of the Paris agreement on climate change this year, I suppose we need to do everything in our power to raise awareness for the truly worrying situation we are in.”
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