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Even though the »horizons zingst« Environmental Photo Festival had to be cancelled this year, due to the pandemic, there is some good news: the outdoor exhibitions that had been planned will still be set up and presented over a longer period of time. This means that the work by Australian photographer Matthew Abbott will be on display for the general public, during the coming months. His Black Summer series is about the devastating bush fires in his homeland. It is perfectly suited to the Environmental Festival's programme and the typical outdoor exhibitions held in Zingst; these, as always, aim to expand environmental awareness.

From June 2019 to March 2020, Australia suffered the worst bush fires the country has ever known. Even while the fires were still raging, the event was given a name: Black Summer. After a few weeks spent taking a crash course with the fire department in Sydney, Abbott took his camera and headed for the areas that were burning. He managed to capture frighteningly horrific, yet also impressive, images of the violent fire. He documented the devastating consequences for the environment, the landscape, and the local residents of the affected areas. 34 people lost their lives. It is calculated that around 186,000 square kilometres of land, close to three billion animals, and nearly 6,000 buildings were destroyed by the bush fires.

“As a photojournalist, I’m not only interested in documenting fires. It’s about the effect on life,” Abbot says, explaining his motivation for repeatedly confronting the danger of fire. His motifs are emotional. Some of them – like the outline of an escaping kangaroo in front of the burning red skeleton of a house, or the picture of a dying wild Brumby horse, struggling exhausted through the charred remains of a forest – have become symbolic representations of the environmental catastrophe.

The Australians, known for their relaxed attitudes and optimism, were being confronted with the impact of global climate change, in a powerful and direct manner never experienced before. “After months of the devastating bushfire crisis, anxiety and trauma had taken hold,” Abbott remembers. “People were asking the question: ‘Is this the new normal?’ With global temperatures continuing to rise and Australia warming more than most, the country is both responsible for what’s happening – as a major coal exporter which refuses to aggressively cut emissions – and a victim of the world’s inaction. The world’s new normal is an era of everlasting and intensifying fire. Australia is where it all begins.”

The Black Summer series will be on display in Zingst for even longer than the duration of the bush fires in Australia. The pictures will be exhibited at the Postplatz, from May 15, 2021, until April 30, 2022. Leica is once again involved this year as one of the partners of the festival.

All images on this page: © Matthew Abbott
© Anna-Lena Abbott

Matthew Abbott

...was born in Sydney in 1984. He studied International Photojournalism at the Danish School of Journalism in Copenhagen and has a Master of Arts from the University of Sydney. He photographs and writes regularly for The New York Times, and has received a number of awards for his work. His Black Summer earned him second place in the 2020 World Press Photo Spot News category. He is represented internationally by Panos Pictures in London, and is currently a member of the Australian Oculi Collective.

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