Tragic photos can change the course of history—but not always - National Geographic
Posted: 24 Jul 2020 11:45 AM PDT
The image is frightening. A corpse lies stiffly on a hospital bed, wrapped in plastic—a modern mummy. The room is dark, sterile, impersonal. No one sits with the body to mourn the life that was lost.A suspected victim of COVID-19, the person died in an Indonesian hospital. Nurses, fearful of infection, wound plastic around the body and sprayed it with disinfectant. Now it's utterly anonymous—physical characteristics shrouded, name and gender unknown, an object waiting to be discarded.Photojournalist Joshua Irwandi made the image while shadowing Indonesian hospital workers as part of a National Geographic Society grant. The photograph ricocheted through the nation of 270 million people, which has been slow to fight the global pandemic."It's clear that the power of this image has galvanized discussion about coronavirus," Irwandi said from his home in Indonesia.But is it enough to change the trajectory of the pandemic in Indonesia, where the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Tracker reported 4,665 deaths and 95,418 cases as of July 24—a toll believed to be vastly undercounted?This sort of question arises every time a photograph seems to distill a current catastrophe. Can an image of death or suffering change public policy or popular sentiment? Even if images from the past have done so, do photographs retain this power in our image-saturated world? And if images can make a difference in the 21st century, what's taking so long?
Posted: 23 Jul 2020 10:10 AM PDT
The gyrfalcon is the world's largest falcon, and one of the fastest: During long flights, it can surpass speeds of 80 miles per hour. Weighing more than three pounds, with a wingspan of four feet or more, it can take down prey twice its size.It's also the only Arctic raptor that doesn't need to head south for the winter, staying behind instead to hunt prey in a frigid, dark landscape. "Any organism that can live in such a hostile environment has my respect," says Travis Booms, a raptor biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.But the gyrfalcon faces a challenge it cannot flee or take down: The Arctic is warming more than twice as fast as the rest of the planet, and biologists consider gyrfalcons one of the region's most vulnerable species, in part because they're ultra-specialized to survive in the cold. While many species are shifting their ranges toward the cooler poles as temperatures climb, the gyrfalcon can't go any farther north. Though they're not currently classified as threatened with extinction, recent research in Alaska suggests there's cause for concern."The population is stable for now but may possibly be declining," Booms says, though it's unclear by just how much. "There are some pretty clear threats on the horizon." He is part of a long-term study in the Seward Peninsula, in western Alaska—home to 70 to 80 nesting pairs of gyrfalcons, or about one-tenth of the state's total population—to understand how the birds are adapting to climate change. Year-round and breeding range of the gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus) in North AmericaSource: IUCN Photographer Kiliii Yüyan accompanied researchers visiting gyrfalcon nests on the peninsula in June 2019. His photos provide an unprecedented glimpse of the birds in their natural habitat, where they are very difficult to find and observe. He was drawn to the project by the birds' beauty and their role as top predators in the Arctic, he says, as well as to the importance of the research.
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