In an otherwise idyllic photograph of sunbathers at a U.K. beach, a seawall looms in the background. It’s the kind of detail that other photographers might crop out of the frame, but for Claudius Schulze, it’s the point. The wall, which is there to protect the beach and port from frequent storms that will surge higher as sea levels rise, is now part of the landscape.
Over the last five years, armed with a large-format camera, an old cherry-picker truck, and his cat, Schulze traveled around Europe documenting protective infrastructure in locations with postcard-worthy views.
In the Alps, he photographed structures designed to prevent avalanches, which climate change can make more common. In the Netherlands, he photographed levees designed to hold back the sea. In many photos, the engineering is half-hidden in the background.
“If we think of nature, we think of nature as something that is beautiful, something that is pristine, some sort of Instagram aesthetic,” Schulze told Co.Exist. “But that is in the largest possible conflict with how nature is now–kind of fragile and menacing and threatened at the same time, and becoming more so because of climate change.”
Schulze became interested in infrastructure designed for disasters after conversations with his sister, an urban planner.
“The civil servant’s take on climate change is totally different than what I would have guessed or expected,” he says. “If you’re interested in civil protection, you’re not interested in any sort of political discussion. You just realize there’s a changing risk pattern, and you react to that so people stay safe.”
In the photographs, he took a similar perspective, avoiding a simple political statement. “If people looking at these images are kind of puzzled and start thinking about that–start trying to make sense of the things that they see–that’s what I’d like to achieve,” he says.
He also hopes that people who see the photographs begin to notice infrastructure they may not have considered in the past. “Not taking this Instagram aesthetic for granted, but what is necessary to maintain it–and that this is something not available everywhere in the world,” he says. “This is a privilege of the developed world.”
Schulze is currently crowdfunding a book of the photos called State of Nature.