Photographer Anya Anti created 2.5 seconds, a climate change awareness project that she hopes will stimulate conversation about the issue and educate more people about the facts, the urgency of the crisis and the seriousness of its consequences.
“I’ve always cared about the environment and loved nature,” says Anti PetaPixels. “But I don’t think it’s enough to actually do anything and change my lifestyle.
“The turning point was when I first visited Iceland in 2016. I have traveled to many places but none of them compared to what I felt and saw in Iceland. It impacted me greatly and made me realize that our planet is fragile and its beauty can fade.
“The thought of nature being affected and destroyed by climate change became personal, shocking and harrowing,” says the photographer. “I wanted to capture Iceland’s incredible beauty through my art and preserve it while I still could.
“I’ve also realized that it’s time to give more meaning to my photographic work, to use it as my unique voice to express my feelings, share my fears about the future and craft a powerful message.”
Half of the images from the project are self-portraits, which Anti often takes with a tripod and remote control. But sometimes it helps to be behind the camera and have more control over the process. That’s where her model was beneficial, and she believes the teamwork of four members was beneficial to the project.
The shoot took place in Iceland, but post-production took place in New York again, so Anti had to visualize the final results while looking through the viewfinder, or even without the viewfinder for self-portraits. She drew sketches, created mood boards, did a lot of research about the place, etc. The result may vary, but the final artwork usually comes very close to what she envisioned when she does all of these things.
What does the title mean 2.5 seconds Mean?
“Planet Earth is 4.5 billion years old. Humanity is about 140,000 years old. If we compress the existence of the earth into a normal full day of 24 hours, then we have been on this planet for 2.5 seconds,” explains Anti, the Ukrainian-born artist. “I use 2.5 seconds as a title because I wanted to evoke the power of numbers and perspective to create a powerful and shocking impact.
“In 2.5 seconds, we have become the dominant species with a rapidly growing population, causing catastrophic environmental impact. We created the industrial revolution and burned fossil fuels, creating more carbon in the atmosphere than ever before.
“We have caused global warming at record speed and are endangering our own existence. More than ever we have cut down trees, destroyed forests and polluted air, water and soil. We created an island of garbage the size of the state of Texas in the middle of the ocean.
“Three quarters of the earth’s land surface is under pressure from human activities. In just 2.5 seconds we turned the planet into our own personal factory.
“It took us nearly 4.5 billion years of evolution to come into existence and we’ve changed so much in such a short amount of time. The problem is us. And it’s up to us if we want to make it to 3 seconds.”
How the project started
Visiting Iceland in 2016 opened her eyes and changed her attitude towards climate change. Anti started thinking about the project in 2017 and it took three years to flesh it out. Most of 2018 was spent developing concepts, crowdfunding the project and finding sponsors. In 2019 she was finally able to go to Iceland with her team for ten days and shoot the whole project. In 2020 she viewed, edited and finalized the material.
Anti tried crowdfunding but failed and had to refund all donations. Eventually she was able to find sponsors and invest some of her own savings in the project.
Two of the most challenging photos
“The most difficult photo was to shoot Sea level rises,says Anti. “I had no idea how it was going to turn out until I went back to New York and started editing.
This time the photo artist could not really rely on the props and the set up was beyond her control. Still, she prepared. Initially, her model sat on a stretch of white brick wall with an open swimming pool in the background.
“I couldn’t really build a setup and flood the area,” says the photographer. “So my only hope was to use my editing skills and turn the white wall into the house, [with] a piece of sprayed cardboard for the roof and use the pool as the base for the flooded area.
Another very challenging shoot was glacial melt.
Anti wanted to create a costume that resembled melting ice with ice crystals and water droplets, while also making it appear as if it weren’t a piece of clothing but part of an ice creature representing glaciers.
“I made the costume myself and spent a tremendous amount of time on it,” Anti recalls. “I used tulle fabric that I roughly sewed together along the sides, nude sheer tights, acrylic crystals and teardrop beads of various sizes that I hot glued and sewn directly onto the fabric.
“I wanted to create the illusion that my subject is nude and that crystals are part of her body that is attached directly to the skin. That’s why I used transparent nude colored tulle.
The photo shoot itself was also very difficult. I wanted to shoot the concept next to the actual glacier. It was freezing cold and we had to shoot in freezing rain and wind. My model was half-naked, wearing a bodysuit and an ice cream costume. I had to be very quick and very efficient.”
The photographer’s favorite photo
“I love them all!” says the concept artist. “But if I had to choose [a favorite]I would probably choose global warming. It’s a self portrait in which I hold a melting planet. It is very personal and symbolizes the whole project.
“I hired someone to do it [hand painted desktop globe] for me here in the US. Then I took it with me to Iceland.”
One of her assistants applied paint to her fingers on site to create the effect of a melting planet with dripping paint. During editing she thought it needed a more mountainous background with fog than the one it was shot on and swapped it out for a different location in Photoshop.
The gearbox and the post-processing
Anti shot the project in Iceland with a Nikon D600 DSLR, NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4 and NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8 with autofocus.
All shots were taken in natural light and some with a silver reflector.
“I do the RAW processing and most of the color grading and color grading in Lightroom,” says Anti. “Then I do compositing and retouching in Photoshop. [The photos] aren’t necessarily compositionally difficult, but I always incorporate some amount of that into my work. I’m also a perfectionist and pay a lot of attention to detail.
“So I spend some time cleaning things up with the Clone Stamp and Healing Brush, perfecting shapes with Liquify, and making local color and contract adjustments with Masks. In the end I can apply some effects like additional color work, contrast or textures like rain and snow.
“On average I spend 3-5 hours per photo.”
Anti’s beginnings as a photographer
“I’ve always been a creative person,” says the environmental photographer. “As a child, I was good at drawing and doing handicrafts. In 2010 I discovered photography and fell in love with it. I bought my first DSLR camera with a savings of only $400 [while in the university in Ukraine studying metallurgy, the field for which she received her diploma.]
“Unfortunately I had no artistic background, no access to professional education in my country, teaching experts or tutors, mentors or photographer friends. So I had to learn everything myself. I got all my knowledge and inspiration from social media and online photography communities. I’ve learned and improved by trying and analyzing the work of other photographers.
“When I got into photography I had trouble finding myself for a while. Like many of us, I’ve tried different genres. But one thing was clear to me: I wanted to shoot something different from all the others.
“When I first started photographing people, I wanted to do more than just simple portraits. I wanted to show something you can’t see, add a story, convey an atmosphere and create a compelling image.
“So I started experimenting, playing with different lenses and shooting techniques, using props, editing them in Photoshop and using compositing to add special effects to my photos. A year later, I began creating surrealistic portraits of women in fine art, which became my preferred genre and a hallmark of my work.”
your previous project, Butterflies in the stomach, was very personal and reflected her struggle with a dark time in her life. But with 2.5 seconds, She hopes to raise awareness about climate change, start a conversation about the issue and educate more people about the facts, the urgency of the crisis and the seriousness of its consequences.
“This three-year experience taught me a lot,” admits Anti. “I’ve learned what I’m capable of. I learned about people and relationships; I’ve made new connections, done a lot of research and made many lifestyle changes to live more sustainably.
“I’m a different person now. And I’m very proud of the final artwork and how this project turned out. My only hope is that it has at least some small impact or impact on how we treat the Earth.”
You can see more of Anya Anti’s work on her website, 500px, and Instagram.
About the author: Phil Mistry is a photographer and teacher from Atlanta, GA. In the 1990s he founded one of the first digital camera courses in New York City at the International Center of Photography. He was the leader and teacher of Sony/Popular Photography magazine’s Digital Days workshops. You can reach him here.
Photo credit: All photos by Anya Anti