J Henry Fair
These are very long chains of causality, we’re not trained to see them, and they’re certainly obscured from our view. So I try to make art which hints at those chains of causality.
—J Henry Fair, Interview with One Earth Sangha, April 28, 2014
J Henry Fair wants to wake us up to what’s being lost and what’s at risk. He wants to show us the consequences of our actions—and the possibility of change. Ultimately, he’s hopeful about the potential for a collective awakening.J Henry Fair’s photographs bring the viewer face-to-face with the truth of the way things are on our planet. He documents a chilling array of environmental threats, including petroleum extraction in the Alberta Tar Sands, mountaintop removal coal mining, brown coal mining, hydraulic fracturing, fertilizer production, coal ash disposal, factory farming, and the Gulf oil spill. In some of his photographs, the destruction is unmistakable; in others, it’s transformed into abstract art, hauntingly beautiful and, on first glance, divorced from its context. The beauty may succeed in drawing us in when the stark reality is agonizingly painful to witness. Of the abstract photographs, Fair says, “The images work precisely because of the dissonance established due to their beauty.”
Fair’s work has been exhibited in the U.S., Europe, and Asia and featured in the New York Times, National Geographic, Vanity Fair, and other major publications. He is author of The Day After Tomorrow: Images Of Our Earth In Crisis, a collection of his photographs accompanied by essays by prominent authors, scientists, and environmentalists.
You can read our interview with J Henry Fair here.
On his own work
My work is a response to my vision of society. I see our culture as being addicted to petroleum and the unsustainable consumption of other natural resources, which seems to portend a future of scarcity.
My vision is of a different possibility, arrived at through careful husbandry of resources and adjustment of our desires and consumption patterns toward a future of health and plenty. To gear our civilization toward sustainability does not necessitate sacrifice today, as many naysayers would argue, but simply adjustment. There are many societies existing at present that have a standard of living at least as high as ours while consuming and polluting a fraction of what is the norm in the United States.
As an artist with a message, one asks oneself: how do I translate my message to my medium such that it will effect the change I want? At first, I photographed “ugly” things; which is, in essence, throwing the issue in people’s faces. Over time, I began to photograph all these things with an eye to making them both beautiful and frightening simultaneously, a seemingly irreconcilable mission, but actually quite achievable given the subject matter.
These are all photographs of things I have found in my explorations. Other than standard photographic adjustments of contrast, they are unmodified.
More on J Henry Fair
- “J. Henry Fair on Devastating Beauty,” Smithsonian Magazine, December 29, 2010.
- “The True Cost of Goods Sold: J Henry Fair at TEDxWakeForestU,” TEDx Talks, March 11, 2013.
- Madel, Robin, “A Bird’s Eye View on Mountaintop Removal Mining: The Photography of J. Henry Fair,” EcoCentric, February 3, 2012.
- Rubin, Mike, “Behind the Canvas: Saatchi Online Interview with J Henry Fair,” Saatchi Art, June 28, 2011.
- Sayle, Jordan , “J Henry Fair: The Day After Tomorrow,” Planet, December 2, 2010.