From beauty to reality — four decades of environmental change

Astounding landscapes are the only images he uses to capture with his camera, but in search of the sublime in nature, he sees more coastal areas polluted by industrial waste and bizarrely colored rivers dyed by polluting discharge, compelling him to turn his lens to documentary photography.

For nearly four decades, Ke Chin-yuan (???), the 56-year-old documentary filmmaker, has been documenting how the process of industrialization has affected the environment, which in turn influences human activity, and now he wishes to pass down his experiences to the younger generation.

"The only thing I have been doing over the past 40 years or so is recording environmental changes associated with human action. And the only thing I am good at is interpreting the changes and communicating with the public," Ke said at a recent launch event of his book, "Taiwan, Our Island."

The book collects more than 700 pictures, a selection from the 40,000 images Ke has uploaded to Flickr since 2007, that accompany his fieldwork research on a wide range of environmental issues facing Taiwan and the world.

Ke hopes that the book could serve as a trigger for open discussion about the nature and magnitude of environmental destruction and its effects on the ecosystem.

The main method Ke uses to measure pollution is to observe the presence, numbers and behavioral patterns of indicator species. "The bioindicators signal threats to their living environments. They are just like old friends of mine. I visit them time and again," he said.

Ke was born and raised in a remote coastal village in Changhua County in central Taiwan, which has Taiwan's largest area of mudflats, situated at the mouth of the Dadu River.

From local to national

Because of his ties to his homeland and the ocean, Ke chose the destruction of natural coastlines as his first subject to pinpoint the causes of the disappearance of coastlines and to educate the public on the priceless values the wetlands have provided for local residents and the environment.

At first, Ke documented marine and coastal ecosystems in 12 coastal regions designated for protection.

But the scope he has been monitoring soon expanded to include more than 100 sites nationwide, including at least 16 outlying islands surrounding Taiwan proper, when he discovered that the extent of the degradation of the ecosystems has happened at a much faster pace than he had previously thought.

Through the images he has captured from the same viewpoint at different times, younger generations can reflect on the relationship between humans and nature, the central theme that runs through much of Ke's work.

For example, one series of photos of sediment deposits in the estuary of the Tamsui River in northern Taiwan shows that it used to be an intertidal zone that was home to fish, clams, shrimps and other shellfish, upon which fishermen relied heavily in the 1990s.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel