Photographs and words by Guia Besana

In the last 35 years, biodiversity has declined by more than a quarter due to population growth and our levels of consumption.

The degree to which we currently exploit our natural resources is unsustainable and our destruction of natural habitats is causing a drastic decrease in the number of species on the planet. Adding to the complexity of these problems is climate change. Climate change is a fact, just as it is also a fact that this current situation is one for which one species—ours—appears to be responsible.

Performed by feminine figures, Poison illustrates in a series of images a journey through some of the themes that represent these concerns. These women find themselves inside solitary scenes of destruction and corruption or those that candidly define the inevitable consequence.

Addressing the range of environmental issues at hand is not an easy task, given the scale of the topic. One might take for granted the global awareness regarding the destruction of biodiversity as a consequence of human activities. Yet, in our daily lives, we all have to face situations that leave us powerless, or which we choose to ignore. This very feeling of helplessness is the starting point of my series Poison, born from my need to give a form to the questions we all have to deal with, day after day.

For my previous series, I used feminine figures to embody emotions linked to maternity and femininity. I quite naturally kept the same process for my new work dedicated to the destruction of the environment. Of course because I’m a woman, and I can identify directly with these figures, but they also form interesting subjects because women, as they give life, offer a more striking contrast with the scenes of destruction I depict in my pictures.

For each photograph, I carefully looked throughout Europe for the most appropriate and symbolic location, to correspond with the theme I was addressing. The clothes and accessories completed the setting of each location, each detail being very important to the creation of an enigmatic, sometimes even frightening atmosphere, always somewhere between reality and fiction.

With these very precise compositions, complex enough to raise different ideas, I allow different interpretations. This involvement of the viewer is essential to me, as it initiates a personal reflection, making way to a deeper questioning of our behavior about the urgency of these environmental issues.

Environment, livestock and consumers are exposed to poisons daily. Speed reviews by governments on pesticide regulations give opportunity to corporations to cause chemical damages. A report called “Dirty Dozen,” by the Environmental Working Group listed the apple as fruit most often carrying pesticide residues.

A group of contaminated women lie in a field. This image reenacts a situation in which a particular chemical poisoned a group of farmers. The folkloric atmosphere is to evoke the loss of traditional agriculture, which has been contaminated by modern systems of biotechnology.

About half of the forests that once covered the Earth are gone. The world’s rainforests could completely vanish in a hundred years at the current rate of deforestation. Driving climate change, deforestation has many negative effects on the environment; the most dramatic shock is the loss of habitats for millions of species. Seventy percent of Earth’s land animals and plants live in forests, and many cannot endure the deforestation that sabotages their shelters.

A woman naively looks at herself in the reflective surface of an oily pond. She gazes into the mirror in order to “see” what consequences have come about as a result of events that humans have set in motion.

A woman is shot amongst a herd of already taxidermied animals. She is about to become part of a landscape of extinct creatures.

A girl is absorbed in the technology in front of her, oblivious to the fact that she is immersed in luxuriant vegetation. Lack of self-regulation and problems with social-emotional development due to overuse of smartphones and screens is increasing exponentially among children.

A woman representing consumerism and greed lies on the floor surrounded by furs and plastic flowers. Excessive consumption or desire for wealth and power negatively effects the environment in countless ways.

The industrialization of the developing world is creating unsustainable pollution levels. An intellectual revolution is required to intervene. Here the polluted air is something we also breath indoors, in places we tend to think are safe. A woman stands in her living room, unaware she is encompassed by a cloud of polluted air.

“One might take for granted the global awareness regarding the destruction of biodiversity as a consequence of human activities. Yet, in our daily lives, we all have to face situations that leave us powerless, or which we choose to ignore.”

A young woman stands in an industrial site with a lost look on her face. This image expresses the helpless attitude we can feel when facing the impact that pollution and poisons have and will have on our lives and that of our children if immediate solutions are not found.

A mermaid lies dead ashore. This scene evokes the pollution of the sea and the deeper aquatic world. The ocean is the blood of the earth, covering more than 70 percent of the planet’s surface, driving weather, regulating temperature, and ultimately supporting all living organisms. 95 percent of this realm remains still unexplored, unseen by the human eye. The mermaid embodies those unknown sea creatures that we still have yet to discover and probably never will due to the degradation of shoreline areas and marine pollution, which has accelerated dramatically over the past three centuries.

A woman sits inside a tire wearing a rainbow-colored dress, the only contrasting element in the image. The fumes that are released from tire burning have been shown to be extremely toxic to human health as well as harmful to the environment. Open tire fire emissions include pollutants, such as particulates, carbon monoxide (CO), sulfur oxides (SOx), oxides of nitrogen (NOx), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), all of which are very destructive.

Three women slide down pipe-like slides symbolizing scarcity of water. Today nearly 1 billion people in the developing world don’t have access to clean water. Water is the foundation of life.

Over the past decade, scientists have struggled to understand what is triggering the Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) that has exterminated an estimated 10 million beehives. Just in the United States, more than 40 percent of honey bee colonies were lost between April 2014 and April 2015. Causal suspects include pesticides, fungicides, disease-bearing parasites and poor nutrition.

As a human being, the moral responsibility to act and protect our children is central. A girl sits holding a globe, her head turned in opposition to the viewer who represents the generation that left her to suffer such hardships.

Guia Besana is an Italian self-taught photographer currently living and working in Paris, France. After completing studies in media and communication in Turin, Italy, she took up photography in 1994 and moved to Paris. Guia’s work gives particular focus to women’s issues, female identity and women’s roles within society. She has had her work published on CNN, Huffington Post, International New York Times, Marie Claire, Vanity Fair, Le Monde, Courrier International, D di Repubblica, and Esquire. She was a finalist in the Julia Margaret Cameron Award and the Leica Oskar Barnack Award, and she won the Amilcare Ponchielli Grin 2012 for her personal project Baby Blues. She has exhibited all over the world.

nineteensixtyeight presents a selection of 16 images from the series Poison, available to buy in our shop.

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