Photography that shows the effects of climate change

Photography that shows the effects of climate change

Fabiano Ventura’s “On the Trail of the Glaciers” project is nearing completion: six expeditions to glacial masses around the world to document the effects of climate change – with Enel Green Power as main sponsor.


If it’s true that a picture is worth a thousand words, then the photographs shot by Fabiano Ventura when compared to those taken a century ago are worth more than all the many studies carried out to document the effects of climate change. Ventura heads the “On the Trail of the Glaciers” project, which has sent 6 expeditions to glacial masses across the globe over a 12-year period.


From Karakorum to Gran Sasso

The project began in 2009 on a rainy July morning in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital and the departure point for the Karakorum expedition, and continued until September 2020, when it explored the Calderone glacier in Gran Sasso, Europe’s southernmost glacial mass (following the disappearance of the Sierra Nevada in Spain) and the “home mountain” for Ventura, an environmental photographer from Rome. “It was on Gran Sasso that I first began mountain climbing and it’s the place where my passion for mountains and environmental photography developed. The project, which has taken me to mountains everywhere in the world, had to come full circle and return here.”


Comparative photography

In each of the glacial areas, Ventura first had to find the exact point where the historical photographs had been taken in order to replicate them with exactly the same framing in order to compare the state of the glaciers. Before every expedition, he researched, catalogued and selected photographic material from some of the world’s most prestigious historical archives, including the Fondazione Sella in Biella and the Royal Geographic Society in London.

The technique of comparative photography is not new and is particularly appreciated for its great communicative power. After all, it’s something we are all familiar with from looking at old photos from our childhood, almost incredulous to see how different we were. Only in this case the changes are in the opposite direction: instead of growing, the glaciers have become increasingly smaller.


“Today these photographs have a bona fide scientific value, thanks to this project of comparative photography. This technique allows me to convey, very directly and without a shadow of doubt, the environmental issues and the effects of climate change in particular”
Fabiano Ventura, environmental photographer

A collective endeavour with the contribution of Enel Green Power

Obviously, a project of this scale could not have been carried out by one person alone: it has been a collective endeavour with Ventura as point person. The project was promoted by Macromicro, a non-profit association active in the environmental sector and organizer of events and projects to safeguard natural resources.

The organization set up a leadership group with communication and technical-creative departments in addition to a prestigious scientific committee of international experts from universities and research institutes. The six expeditions included the participation of geologists, glaciologists, meteorologists, photographers, directors, filmmakers, translators, mountain guides, Sherpas, high-altitude porters and cooks.

Naturally, the project was able to count on contributions from numerous sponsors. The main sponsor, Enel Green Power, believed in the project from the very beginning, as befits our Group’s heightened awareness of issues linked to climate change.

Expeditions completed
Comparative photographs
Research projects carried out
Glaciers analyzed
Universities and research institutes involved
Companies and institutions involved

The world’s biggest archive

Although the last chapter dedicated to the Alps, planned for the summer of 2021, completes the expeditions, the project as a whole is only at the halfway point: from the scientific perspective, the most important result is to have compiled the world’s most extensive archive of high-quality comparative photographs on the subject of melting glaciers. This result, however, has even further ramifications: the documentation acquired in over 12 years of work will provide scientists with useful information about recent glacial dynamics, much of which is still not understood, which will lead to better understanding of these effects, while also creating a powerful means of communication to foster greater awareness of environmental issues among the general public.


“One of the key values of this scientific initiative is to have planned expeditions to different mountain ranges and glacial masses, thereby providing researchers with an opportunity to see the big picture on a global scale”

Fabiano Ventura, environmental photographer


Furthermore, the scientists involved in the project were able to explore other technical aspects, such as the study and optimization of new methods for developing three-dimensional models of glacial masses.


The story continues

Equally, if not even more important, are the project’s communication goals: to inform the general public outside the sector about the importance of sustainable development, safeguarding natural resources and biodiversity, the role of scientific research in environmental issues, and the rediscovery and recognition of the photographic archive as historical and cultural heritage.

The project’s communication activities followed the various steps closely, articulated in numerous directions. Dozens of conferences and congresses were organized, as well as a travelling exhibition, and lessons and conferences in schools. Television documentaries were filmed and distributed worldwide while Ventura’s photographs have been displayed at exhibitions and festivals together with a specially-created interactive installation, in which the perfect combination of photography and video art has captivated visitors. 

From a media perspective, there have been hundreds of articles about the project published in journals and on the web in addition to dozens of radio and television reports, plus catalogues and DVDs. In total, over 200 million people around the world have already been reached.

Of course, both the scientific and the communication activities will continue well beyond completion of the last expedition (planned for the summer of 2021) to address an increasingly large audience and raise awareness about the need to stop climate change. It is not only the glaciers that are at stake: as Ventura says “preserving nature means preserving ourselves, as a species and as humanity.”