“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 development and climate change. More recently he has also been focusing on global forest deaths from climate change. 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
“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
In 2006, Subhankar returned to the Arctic—Alaska and Yukon Territory in Canada—to expand the geographic and conceptual scope of his work. Following year, he visited Alaska and also went to Siberia. In 2007, the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College presented an exhibition of his Arctic photographs, RESOURCE WARS IN THE AMERICAN ARCTIC. Following year, the Sundaram Tagore Gallery in New York City published a monograph of his photographs, Resource Wars, with an introduction by Peter Matthiessen and an essay by photography historian Professor Kelley E. Wilder. In 2009, Dartmouth College Artist–in–Residence program published a monograph, Subhankar Banerjee: Photographs, with an essay by historian Professor Karl Jacoby. A detailed theoretical analysis of his Arctic photography can be found in art historian Yates McKee’s essay “Of Survival: Climate Change and Uncanny Landscape in the Photography of Subhankar Banerjee” in the anthology IMPASSES OF THE POST–GLOBAL: THEORY IN THE ERA OF CLIMATE CHANGE, VOL. 2 (Open Humanities Press, 2012).
From 2006 till 2010, Subhankar made photographs in the New Mexican desert, near his home, to engage with the climate change impacts in the desert and other ecocultural concerns. 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. 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.
Subhankar’s photographs have been exhibited in more than fifty museums and galleries around the world, including MILWAUKEE ART MUSEUM, NEVADA MUSEUM OF ART, and the 18TH BIENNALE OF SYDNEY: ALL OUR RELATIONS. 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 2013, his photographs will be shown at the Snite Museum of Art at the University of Notre Dame and Whatcom Museum in Bellingham.
“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)
“ For more than ten years, Banerjee has been raising awareness about the rapid ecological and cultural changes in the Arctic. … the diverse texts gathered in Arctic Voices … give a multifaceted insight into a region whose ecosystems have already during the past century undergone substantial change through pollution, resource exploitation and military use. With global warming, direct and indirect environmental risks are multiplied. The volume’s most outstanding feature is that it shows the Arctic not as a sublime wilderness devoid of human beings, but as a region in which people have been living for a long time, and in which contemporary developments threaten not only nature, but in a great measure also indigenous cultures. … Through making both victimisation and resistance visible, Arctic Voices is itself an important contribution to the struggle for environmental justice in the far North.”
—Reinhard Hennig, “Arctic Voices—Review”, in Ecozon@: European Journal of Literature, Culture and Environment, Vol. 4, No. 1, 2013
In 2007, Subhankar started writing essays. Since then, his essays have appeared in: THE SCHOLAR & FEMINIST—special issue “Gender on Ice” (Barnard Center for Research on Women, Fall 2008), ALASKA NATIVE READER: HISTORY, CULTURE, POLITICS—an anthology edited by Maria Shaa Tláa Williams (Duke University Press, 2009), PHOTOGRAPHY CHANGES EVERYTHING—an anthology edited by Marvin Heiferman (Aperture and Smithsonian Institution, 2012), THE 18TH BIENNALE OF SYDNEY: ALL OUR RELATIONS—edited by Catherine de Zegher and Gerald McMaster (Sidney Biennale, 2012), THIRD TEXT—special issue “Contemporary Art and the Politics of Ecology” edited by T J Demos (Routledge, 2013); a letter in THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS—“Can Shell Be Stopped?” (6 June 2013), and blog pieces in: TOMDISPATCH, Al Jazeera, AlterNet, Common Dreams, Counter Currents, Grist, Huffington Post, Mother Jones, Nation, Truthout, and the CLIMATESTORYTELLERS.ORG that he founded in 2010. 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 writing by 34 indigenous activists, conservationists, scientists and writers; and photographs and drawings by 16 artists. A paperback edition will be published with a new conversation between Dr. James Hansen and Subhankar on 20 August 2013. His work has become instrumental in the conservation efforts of several ecoculturally significant areas of the American Arctic, including 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 the Yukaghir indigenous communities in the Yakutia province of Siberia.
He has given many interviews including, 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 Professor Nabaneeta Dev Sen (in Bengali READ ONLINE 2007), Vanity Fair by Ingrid Sischy (DECEMBER 2003), The Seattle Times Sunday Magazine by Lynda V. Mapes (MARCH 21, 2004), Seattle Post–Intelligencer by Regina Hackett (JUNE 25, 2005), livemint:The Wall Street Journal, India, by Ananda Banerjee (AUGUST 5, 2012), and The Telegraph, Kolkata, India, by G. S. Mudur (APRIL 14, 2013).
Subhankar has given over one hundred lectures and participated in numerous panels. Some of his academic keynote and thematic lectures include: Subhankar with Peter Matthiessen—University of Utah College of Humanities Annual Lyceum II Lecture (2008); Columbia College in Chicago—Annual Critical Encounters Series Human|Nature (2009); Indiana University in Bloomington—Themester: sustain·ability: Thriving on a Small Planet (2010); 2011 Annual Rapaport Lecture in Contemporary Art at Amherst College (2011); a plenary speech at The Association for the Study of Literature and Environment biennial conference Species, Space and the Imagination of the Global (2011); Friends Forum Lecture at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton (2011); and Next North Symposium—concluding keynote at the Anchorage Museum (2012). His many public events include: Subhankar with Peter Matthiessen—a sold–out Lannan Foundation Cultural Freedom event at the Lensic Performing Arts Center in Santa Fe (2004); Subhankar with Sarah James—at the Harvard University Museum of Natural History (2004); Princeton University Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs (2004); Columbia University Earth Institute (2004); Subhankar with Terry Tempest Williams and David Allen Sibley—a sold–out Seattle Arts and Lectures literary event (attended by 2500 people in 2005); Hood Museum of Art and Dartmouth College (2009); Tyler School of Art at Temple University in Philadelphia (2010); and the Amon Carter Museum of American Art (2011). Various panels he participated in include: United Nations Environment Programme Climate Change symposium at the Palais des Beaux–Arts in Brussels (2007); Unlearning Intolerance: Art Changing Attitudes Toward the Environment symposium at the United Nations Headquarters in New York (2008); Gender on Ice conference at the Barnard College (2008); Art+Environment conference at the Nevada Museum of Art (2011); The Art of Sustainability panel at Princeton University (2011); and The Anthropocene: Planet Earth in the Age of Humans—a Smithsonian Grand Challenges Symposium at the Smithsonian Institution (2012). In 2013, he will give a plenary speech at the POSTNATURAL—Society for Literature, Science and the Arts annual conference at the University of Notre Dame; and lectures at the ECO–AESTHETICS: CONTEMPORARY ART AND THE POLITICS OF ECOLOGY conference at the University College London, WHERE ARE WE GOING, WALT WHITMAN?—an annual series at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie of Fine Arts and Design in Amsterdam, and an event with Dr. James Hansen in the Lannan Foundation lecture series IN PURSUIT OF CULTURAL FREEDOM.
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Subhankar has received many awards, including inaugural Cultural Freedom Fellowship from Lannan Foundation (2003), 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.