As we emerged from lockdown in New South Wales earlier this year, Carine experienced an urge to photograph what matters most. Carine spent her weekends over the months of May, June and July 2020 corresponding with and photographing the teenage climate activists that make up the Australian School Strike for Climate movement.
When protesting became a potential health hazard, the Schools Strike for Climate activists, have been as restricted as the rest of us. However, that has not caused them to follow a submissive path of inaction. The current state of a socially isolated world has caused accelerated adaptation within the digitally literate youth, noting that non-violent marching through the city streets is just one technique used by underage citizens to evoke societal change. The School Strike 4 Climate teens have been connecting and educating via a plethora of online platforms prior to and during the onset of the Covid19 crisis. Through the act of educating peers, these students are influencing Australia’s next generation. School Strike 4 Climate and the Australian Youth Climate Coalition have launched ‘Student Climate Leadership’ an online program to educate high school students across the nation in leadership, change-making, communications and campaigning skills. This inclusive initiative includes sustainability, equality, biodiversity, conservation and beyond. Concurrently Strike School, also hosted by Schools Strike 4 Climate, encourages teens to log in and discuss and learn the basics of climate science. The climate crisis is not the only subject being discussed as the recent Black Lives Matter protests have inspired these young climate activists to expand their message of climate action, including fighting to end systemic racism. They are particularly pushing for Australians to educate themselves in regard to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, history and language.
Their movement, which was inspired by the peaceful action of Swedish Environmentalist, Greta Thunberg, who staged her famous sit-in at the Swedish parliament house, during 2018, is growing each day within the teenage communities of Australia. Teenage sit-ins used as a catalyst to provoke change are not a new phenomenon. The Greensboro sit-ins of the 1960s at the Woolworths lunch counters in North Carolina, America, are an example of a peaceful act of a few, that led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Four African American teenagers entered the Woolworth’s lunch counter and sat there, refusing to leave during a time of racial segregation. According to The New York Times Magazine “Ezell Blair Jr., 18; Franklin McCain, 19; Joseph McNeil, 17; and David Richmond, 18, all students at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University — made their stand on Feb. 1, 1960. Within three days, they were joined by some 300 others. By summer, the sit-ins had spread to more than 50 cities, and lunch counters were rapidly desegregating”. Astor, M., 2020. 7 Times In History When Students Turned To Activism. [online] nytimes.com. Available at: <https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/05/us/student-protest-movements.html> [Accessed 16 July 2020].
The influence of Greta Thunberg’s actions in Sweden share parallels with the Greensboro sit-in of 1961 however, in 2020 the impact has been supported further by the hyper-connectivity of the information age. Greta is an icon of her generation, through the support of many other voices, including the Students Strike 4 Climate movement in Australia, including the faces you see in this portrait series. School Strike for Climate is a collective however, it is a mistake to understand the movement, as only a collective. School Strike for Climate is made up of individual people, who are on the precipice of adulthood and about to emerge into extremely unpredictable conditions.
Today’s teenagers are the inheritors of a world described by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, during a recent announcement to increase defense spending as a “world that is poorer, that is more dangerous and that is more disorderly”. Morrison, P., 2020. Launch of the 2020 Defence Strategic Update. In: Address - Launch of the 2020 Defence Strategic Update. [online] Australia: Prime Minister of Australia. Available at:<https://www.pm.gov.au/media/address-launch-2020-defence-strategic-update> [Accessed 16 July 2020]. Australian teens are inheriting a climate disaster, an Australian recession, a pandemic, an unstable geopolitical environment, hyper-capitalism, intergenerational inequality and mass species extinction. These Australian kids, on the cusp of adulthood, have lived through the worst fire disaster in Australian history, as flames raged throughout the East Coast of Australia during the summer of 2019-2020. As they glance ahead towards college life, the students are now also faced with exorbitant University Degree fees in the arts and humanities, applied by the Australian Government as a deterrent, during a time when critical thinking is needed most. Perhaps hosting educational initiatives is School Strike 4 Climate’s antidote to maintain the youthful thinkers of today and create the intellectual leaders of tomorrow.
This year we have collectively felt an existential threat and a concurrent feeling of powerlessness. In response to these emotions, Carine decided to point her camera and shine light on individuals who are already problem-solving future catastrophes. Light is a wayfinder (navigational tool) for when we are lost in a dark forest. Light can be a wayfinder in the context of photography. Carine believes that who and what we look at matters. This photographic series points the camera directly at the faces of our future society. Look at them. See them. Hear them. This generation knows that nobody is coming to save them, but they are doing everything they can to save us all.
Portraits of the School Strike 4 Climate activists, based in New South Wales, shot at their homes during May, June and July 2020 include:
Izzy Raj Seppings (Age 14), Kayla Hill (Age 15), Natasha Abhayawickrama (Age 16), Nabilah Chowdhury (Age 16), Nate Alexander Turner (Age 16), Jean Hinchliffe (Age 16), Imogen Kuah (Age 18), Ambrose Hayes (Age 16)
This portrait series has been published in the summer issue (2020) of Lunch Lady Magazine.