Research: Environmental Photographer of the Year – Michele Palazzi

During my research, I decided to search for further aesthetic influence for this series through the work of current environmental photographers. One example in particular stood out to me for his definitive approach to a hard hitting photo story, Michele Palazzi, this years winner of the Environmental Photographer of the Year award.

One aspect of this article I noted was the organisation running this competition was the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management.

Environmental Photographer Of The Year 2013: The Winning Shots

on April 10 2013 2:04 AM

Shutterbugs from around the world submitted more than 3,000 entries for the 2013 Environmental Photographer of the Year contest, but in the end, it was the haunting shot of a child, dressed as Spider-Man, stuck in a sandstorm in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert, that took home top honors.

The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management awarded Italian photographer Michele Palazzi the £5,000 grand prize for the shot “Gone with the Dust #02” at a private ceremony on Tuesday evening at the Royal Geographical Society in London. Briton Eleanor Bennett, meanwhile, took home £1,000 as the Young Environmental Photographer of the Year for the under 18 category.

Their photos, in addition to selections from roughly 50 finalists, go on display at the Royal Geographical Society Wednesday.

CIWEM has sponsored the competition since its inception in 2007, and it said the showcase provides photographers with an opportunity to share images of environmental and social issues with an international audience. The exhibition aims to shed light on “the causes, consequences and solutions to climate change and social inequality.”

Judges this year looked at each shot’s impact, composition and originality, as well as the photographers’ technical ability, to whittle the pack down to the 50-odd shots featured at the Royal Geographical Society. The selected works examine issues such as innovation, sustainable development, poverty, human rights and population growth.

“Shock and awe, beauty and despair — it’s all there,” said CIWEM Executive Director Nick Reeves. “These photographs … tell a breathtaking and compelling range of stories on the environment and on the condition in which we live.”

 Gone with the dust #02, 2012

Michele Palazzi took top honors for this shot, taken in the Gobi desert of Mongolia.

The image in reference is quite morbidly beautiful in its approach, combining something we associate as an icon of ‘super-human’ in western culture (spiderman) and placing it within the context of a harsh, dried up and devastated environment, a far cry away from our usual associations. It makes for an even more dramatic impact upon the audience.

This is reinforced further through the contrasting colour of the subject and absence of colour in their surroundings.

Survivors, 2011

This century old building in the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh does not harbour ghosts of the past – it shelters living and hopeful souls, braving life in the present. It is home to eighty families of sweepers – one of the most neglected and downtrodden communities, despite rendering an important service making it deserved to be noticed and respected. GMB Akash

 Farmer under the Sun, 2012

Taken in South Sulawesi, Indonesia, a farmer dries rice in the hot sun. Sunlight helps the drying of agricultural products. When the harvest season comes, the farmers are ready to collect crops from the rice paddies in order to ease milling and production. Alamsyah Rauf

UYUNI, 2011

It is one of the most impressive sights in the world, bringing time to a standstill. The Salar de Uyuni in Southwestern Bolivia, is now one of the biggest mountain ranges in the world at an elevation of 3,656 meters (11,995 ft) above mean sea level. Salar de Uyuni is one of the most coveted sources in the world thanks to new technologies. The mountain hosts 140 million tonnes of lithium, over half of the world’s supply. Javier Arcenillas

 Quiver Trees by Night 2, 2012

The cool glow of our Milky Way contrasts with the warm light pollution from the nearby town of Keetmanshoop, Namibia, providing a colourful backdrop to a grove of Quiver Trees. This panorama was captured at the Quiver Tree Forest Restcamp, and covers a 230 degree view, composed of 12 exposures. Florian Breuer

Model housing, 2012

Designer housing lies almost empty unsold after the housing boom ends in Spain; just some of the estimated 1.2 million empty properties that Spain has on offer. This estate near the coast is eerily quiet with only a few properties occupied; concept living that has made it to construction but with no one to move in. We seem to have an innate need to order and compartmentalise our lives, often more obvious from the air. Steve Brockett

Marooned, 2012

Villas surrounded by a sea of intensive green houses in southern Spain. Plasticos, as they are colloquially named, spread at an alarming rate over the landscape. This is the often unseen price for year round fruits and vegetables, destined for northern European supermarkets; arm in arm with poorly paid migrant workers and conditions that often pose high respiratory risks, they represent the agricultural equivalent of a sweatshop. Steve Brockett

Environmental migrants: the last illusion. Ulaan Baator, Mongolia #01, 2011

A child walking on the streets of the Gher District. In Ulaan Baator, a huge number of children are not able to attend the school because of the extremely poor conditions of their families. 2008 became the point of no return – for the first time in history there are more people living in cities than in rural areas. Cities will grow even larger due to climate change and to environmental migrants, who are destined to become the new humanitarian emergency of the planet in the next few decades. Alessandro Grassani

Hong Kong Hole, 2010

In East Asia, western style development is racing ahead of other projects. Stuart Chape

 Environmental migrants: the last illusion. Ulaan Baator, Mongolia #06, 2011

Erdene Tuya together with her 3 year old son, Tuvchinj. They wake up while her husband Batgargal checks on the herd. 90% of environmental migration will occur in less developed countries, with relocation from rural areas to the more degraded areas of the city known as slums. The poorest countries, those who have least contributed to climate change, will be the worse hit by this phenomenon due to the lack of funds invested in alternative development policies in those areas which become inhabitable. Alessandro Grassani

Environmental migrants: the last illusion. Ulaan Baator, Mongolia #07, 2011

29 year old Erdene Tuya hauls a sheep lost to the dzud to a small burial ground close to their yurt. In Mongolia’s Arkhangai province, the Tsamba family lives on the edge, struggling through harsh winters alongside their herds. The cities in these countries have already become victims of climate change and are destined to expand further due to unemployment, poverty and inhumane social conditions. Alessandro Grassani

Kai Löeffelbein/Laif, E-Waste in Ghana #01, 2011

According to a United Nations evaluation, up to 50 million tonnes of toxic electronic waste accumulate annually in the whole world. In the US, it is estimated that 50-80% of the waste collected for recycling is being exported. Because the US has not ratified the Basel Convention, this is legal. With the voluntary ratification of the Basel Convention, countries are forbidden by law to further export toxic electronic waste to countries that are not members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). But inspections of 18 European seaports found as much as 47% of waste destined for export, including e-waste, was illegal. Germany, for example, ship up to 100,000 tonnes of electronic waste overseas per year. In order to bypass the conditions of the Basel Convention, this merchandise is declared second-hand-goods or even development aid. Trading with electronic waste has become a lucrative business in which millions are earned while professional recycling is quite expensive. Kai Löffelbein

 Polluted Landscape, 2012

Due to the vast exploitation of coal mines, meadows in Holingol City are left degraded and no cattle or sheep exist there. In order to maintain the image of the city, the local government sculptured more than 120 sheep, as well as cattle, horses and camels in the Horqin Grassland. Lu Guang

Residents going back home to take their belongings, Tomioka, Fukushima “No-Go Zone”, Japan, 2011

At the time of the Fukushima evacuation, the inhabitants fled from the radioactive cloud leaving everything behind. 134,000 people were forced to evacuate. Once a month, residents of the evacuated towns have special permission from the authorities to return to their homes to check that everything is in place and to remove their personal belongings. A recent survey among the evacuees has determined that 80% of the evacuees were absolutely not aware of what was going on and had no information on the type of protection to be taken. Pierpaolo Mittica

Odaka City, Fukuhima “No-Go Zone”, Japan, 2011

On March 11, 2011 one of the largest Tsunami’s on record hit Japan. Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was severely effected, damaging its safety and cooling systems. Within a few days, the core of three nuclear power plants entered meltdown, releasing a massive amount of radioactive nuclides. In April 2011, the Japanese government created an evacuated area of 20 km around the nuclear power plant of , refusing admittance to everyone. Before this evacuation Odaka had 13,000 inhabitants. Fukushima Daiichi

GPAction, 2011

180 km off the Greenland coast, 18 international activists from five inflatable speedboats, launched from the Greenpeace ship, Esperanza, climb ladders onto the 53,000 tonne oil exploratory rig, Leiv Eiriksson. Greenpeace was attempting to stop the Leiv Eiriksson oil rig from drilling in Baffin Bay – one of the most pristine and fragile natural areas in the world, home to important and vulnerable wildlife including almost all of the world’s Narwhal population as well as blue whales, sea bird colonies, and polar bears. Steve Morgan

Trashfighter, 2009

During my research travel through western Africa on the topic of waste and recycling, I focused on children at dump sites. Through my series “Trashfighters”, I wanted to show the living realities of these people, fighting on the waste for their everyday survival. With my team of T.O.Y.S. we made stops in the outskirts of Nouakchott, the main capital of Mauritania. We interviewed women who are recycling plastics as a part of the Zazou project. On the way I saw these two boys looking and smiling at us through the television frame. They were very excited at seeing us in the area. So I took this picture of them. I like the real happiness shining from their faces, although they are living in difficult and uncomfortable conditions. The Zazou Project is an Urban waste management and income generating activity for women from the outskirts of Nouakchott. In 2005, the Gret initiated the “Zazou” (plastic bag) project intended to improve the living conditions of women in the suburban districts of Nouakchott and to create income generating activities by setting up a plastic recycling business. Igor F. Petkovic

Olympics, 2012

The clear and ringing irony of the largest McDonald’s in the world being erected in the Olympic Park should not need to be stated either verbally or visually, but it seems that this bizarre decision was never picked up in the way I imagined it would have been. The surface joy of the Games and their success in that respect should not be undervalued, but in terms of supporting local business and taking the message of healthy living seriously by organisers on a genuine human level, it is painfully evident that this was a swindle. Josh Redman

An Oil Truck Heading Through Rwanda Bound for Uganda, 2011

An oil truck rolls through the hills of Rwanda along the dusty roads. Thomas White

Nuclear Winter, 2012

This picture was taken on a very cold winter day on the shore of Lake Bokod near Oroszlány. This lake is known for the little fisherman houses and the warm temperature of the lake’s water. The Oroszlány Power Plant is situated in front of the houses and the lake is never frozen in wintertime. When I took this photo, smoke erupted from the power plant and then it just started to snow.

One of the most impressive aspects of this body of work is Palazzi’s ability to change between almost entirely different subjects and visual compositions (desolate natural environments, portraiture, street scenes, architectural landscapes, industry) but maintain a strong sense of cohesion and visual narrative. This is something I hope to achieve in some way within my own work, all which telling different sides of the story or further reinforcing one aspects significance.

Overall, this body of work is a stunning representation of the contemporary environmental picture story.



Michele Palazzi was born in Rome in 1984. After gaining a three-year master degree in Photography at the Scuola Romana di Fotografia, he started working as a documentary photographer. In 2009 he received the Enzo Baldoni Prize with project 3,32AM on the earthquake in Abruzzo. Between 2010 and 2011 he has worked on the project Migrant Workers Journey recipient of the Project LaunchAward 2011 at CenterSanta Fe, exhibited in New Mexico Museum of Art and screened at the Visa Pour l’Image 2012. In 2013 he received the First Prize of Environmental Photographer of the Year Award. Between 2012 and 2013 he started working on Black Gold Hotel a long term project about the modernization impact in Mongolia exhibited at Format Festival 2013 (UK), Organ Vida Festival 2013 (CRO) and Athens Photo Festival 2013 (GR). He lives in Rome and he’s represented by Contrasto agency.

From this, I decided further review the body of work from which he gained his most recent acclaim, Black Gold Hotel.

In the last decade the economy of Mongolia has grown at an unprecedented rate, with GDP expanding by more than 10% per year. All this mostly depends on the mining industry: attracted by the large deposits of copper, gold and most of all coal, all of the industry’s global giants have invested and invest in this small country of Central Asia.

In this accelerated and deregulated development local populations and traditional ways of life, based on ancestral nomadic herding along routes across the steppes, are undergoing a crisis. Many families have left their activities and moved in large urban centers in search of work opportunities in this new industrial society, often slipping into economic and social poverty. Others, however, try to resist, dealing every day with pollution, dusts that poison the vegetation, and living conditions which get more and more difficult every day.

Black Gold Hotel is a journey in the daily lives of a few families from the Gobi desert, where the pasture which has been the main livelihood for centuries, is disappearing in a few decades,  On one hand, those who chose to continue the tradition of the steppe despite all difficulties, on the other those who preferred to take their chances in the large cities, unfortunately facing the reality of a space which is deteriorated and invaded by unreachable western cultural models.

Applying this personal context to the visual aspect of his work allowed me to view the portfolio of images which a new consideration, reinforcing the significance of environment and lifestyles of the subjects in question.

Overall, I found Palazzi’s series to be very compelling and quite desirable towards my own aims for this upcoming project.

I will continue my research.


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