I spoke with Nelson based photographer Jose Cano about the role of creativity in activism. Jose was born in Spain and worked for several years in the fashion industry, before travelling the Mediterranean, Africa and Asia. Initially focused on documentary photography, as a witness of the social problems of our world, he later turn to Fine Art Photography, with a foot in activism media and photography on matters related to environmental issues.
Jose has published series of photographs about environmental issues including Drowning in Plastic, Medicine Woman and the Oil Spill: A Story and A Plastic World: Bottles:
C: Kia ora Jose, thank you for taking the time to speak with me. Was there a particular moment or time in your life where you became conscious of environmental exploitation?
J: Yes, it happened to me more than 10 years ago. I was working in Thailand for a charity on health issues. Working in the slums put you directly in contact with the poor infrastructure and environmental degradation everyday. Asia is a ticking environmental bomb of gigantic proportions, so I remember one day, looking at a beach covered in litter and plastic rubbish, and realising that the environment, destroying the Earth, was at origin of all the other problems. Poverty, inequality, health, cannot be resolved inside a short sighted system based on extraction, mythical infinite growth and depletion of resources.
I first started reading to know more, followed by supporting organisations that I trusted. But lately I have decided that I could do more, and started focusing my photography into creating artworks that would inspire others to change.
C: What do you think is special about using art to communicate?
J: Art is at the crossroads of what I love to do and what my values are, is how I can contribute to society and the health of the Earth. It also allow me to communicate at a deeper level as I believe we are all wired to understand messages through images. Images and movies don’t need translation, are a universal language that can be understood in real time in NZ and China, in the USA or Brazil. So it’s more difficult to be censored or manipulated. Is also my way of action my beliefs, not only as a personal level, but creating ripples that hopefully will influence others.
C: Which piece of your art are you most proud of?
J: Every image and movie we do has an special significance, but if I had to chose one it would be ‘Oil and the Medicine Woman’ with contemporary dancer Jess Newman:
When we watched it at the studio it made us all cry. She transmits so powerfully the suffering of the sea creatures harmed by the oil companies.
C: That is incredible, thank you. People often see this devastation all around them and feel overwhelmed. What advice would you give people who are new to learning about environmental challenges?
J: First, be patient. Don’t expect changes to happen in a year or two. But be hopeful. I am old enough to have witnessed enormous changes in my lifetime that give me enormous and sustaining hope.
Second, be persistent. Doing small changes everyday, talking with people, spreading the message, may not sound very heroic, but this is how changes are made: millions of people changing and becoming the pervasive social trend that brings change.
And the third: do it because is the right thing to do. Don’t focus on the results, on winning the battle. You have to have a samurai mindset, do the honourable thing, so you can live with yourself in peace. Then change will come.
C: And what keeps you hopeful?
J: To see so many young people ready to jump in the first line of the Earth defence, seeing them, I know that I may be lucky enough to have seen in my life the greatest transition of all times into clean energy . The oil age will be remembered in the history books as somehow similar to the dark period of the middle age, after which the Renaissance came. The oil companies are the equivalent of the Spanish Inquisition, who rejected and opposed progress, and like it, soon will be all gone.
C: Yes they will! Thank you again for speaking with us. Any parting words you’d like to share?
J: We need to open ourselves to all the good people doing great things for the Earth. We need to be focused, but we also need to be open and support all the organisations and individuals that are working in the same direction. My dream is an alliance of all the organisations and individuals working with the same purpose. Then we will be unstoppable!