Photographer Anya Anti has created 2.5 Seconds, a climate change awareness project that she hopes will start a conversation about the issue and educate more people about the facts, the urgency of the crisis, and the seriousness of its consequences.
“The turning point was when I visited Iceland first in 2016. I’ve traveled to many places before, but none of them could compare to what I felt and saw in Iceland. It significantly impacted me and made me realize that our planet is fragile, and its beauty may disappear.
“The thought that nature is being affected and destroyed by the changing climate became personal, shocking, and upsetting,” the photographer says. “I wanted to capture and preserve Iceland’s incredible beauty through my art while I still could.
“I’ve also realized it’s time to bring more meaning into my photography work, use it as my unique voice to express how I feel and share my fear for the future, and create a strong message.”
Half of the images from the project are self-portraits, which Anti often does with a tripod and remote control. But sometimes, it helps to be behind the camera and have more control over the process. That’s when her model was beneficial, and she believes the team effort of four members was advantageous to the project.
The shoot was done in Iceland, but the post-processing was back in New York, so Anti had to visualize the final results while looking through the viewfinder or even without it for self-portraits. She would draw sketches, create mood boards, do a lot of research about the location, etc. The result may vary, but the final artwork usually comes very close to what she imagined when she does all those things.
What Does the Title 2.5 Seconds Mean?
“Planet Earth is 4.5 billion years old. Humankind is about 140,000 years old. If we compress the Earth’s existence into a normal full day of 24 hours, then we’ve been on this planet for 2.5 seconds,” explains Anti, the Ukraine-born artist. “I used 2.5 Seconds as a title because I wanted to invoke the power of numbers and perspective to create a strong and shocking effect.
“In 2.5 seconds, we’ve become the dominant species with a rapidly growing population, causing a catastrophic environmental impact. We have created the industrial revolution and burned fossil fuels creating more carbon in the atmosphere than ever before.
“We have caused global warming at a record pace, endangering our own existence. We have cut trees, destroyed forests more than ever, and polluted air, water, and soil. We have created an island of waste, the size of the state of Texas, in the middle of the ocean.
“Three-quarters of Earth’s land surface is under pressure from human activity. In just 2.5 seconds, we’ve turned the planet into our own personal factory.
“It took almost 4.5 billion years of evolution for us to exist, and we have changed so much in so little time. The problem is us. And it is up to us if we want to make it to 3 seconds.”
How the Project Started
The Iceland visit in 2016 opened her eyes and changed the way she felt about climate change. Anti started thinking about the project in 2017, and it took three years to flesh out. Most of 2018 was spent developing concepts, trying to crowdfund the project, and finding sponsors. In 2019, she was finally able to go to Iceland for ten days with her team and shoot the whole project. In 2020, she sorted through the material, edited it, and finalized it.
Anti tried crowdfunding but failed and had to refund all the donations. Ultimately, she was able to find sponsors and invest some of her own savings in the project.
Two of the Most Challenging Photos
“The most challenging photo to shoot was Sea Level Rise,” says Anti. “I had no idea how it would come out until I returned to New York and started editing.
This time, the photo artist couldn’t rely on the props really, and the setup was beyond her control. Nonetheless, she still prepared. Initially, her model was sitting on a piece of white-bricked wall with an open swimming pool in the background.
“I couldn’t really build a setup and flood the area,” says the photographer. “So, my only hope was to use my editing skills and transform the white wall into the house, [with] a piece of spray-painted cardboard as the rooftop and use the pool as a base for the flooded area.
Another very challenging shoot was Glacier Melt.
Anti wanted to create a costume that would look like melting ice with ice crystals and water drops and at the same time make it look like it’s not a piece of clothing but rather a part of an ice creature that represents glaciers.
“I made the costume myself and spent an enormous amount of time on it,” Anti remembers. “I used tulle fabric that I roughly stitched together on the sides, nude sheer tights, acrylic crystals, and teardrop beads of different sizes that I hot glued and sewed directly to the fabric.
“I wanted to create an illusion that my subject is naked and that crystals are a part of her body attached straight to the skin. That’s why I used transparent nude-colored tulle.
The photoshoot itself was also very difficult. I wanted to shoot the concept next to the actual glacier. It was freezing, and we had to shoot under freezing rain and wind. My model was half-naked, wearing a bodysuit and an ice costume. I had to be very quick and very efficient.”
The Photographer’s Favorite Photo
“I love them all!” says the conceptual artist. “But if I had to choose [a favorite], I’d probably select Global Warming. It’s a self-portrait where I hold a melting planet. It’s very personal and symbolizes the whole project.
“I commissioned a person to make it [hand painted desktop globe] for me here in the US. Then I took it with me to Iceland in my luggage.”
One of her assistants applied paint on her fingers on location to create the effect of a melting planet with dripping paint. While editing, she figured it needed a more mountainous background with fog than the one it was shot on and swapped it for a different locale in Photoshop.
The Gear and Post-Processing
Anti shot the project in Iceland with a Nikon D600 DSLR, a NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4, and a NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8 on autofocus.
All shots were taken in natural light and sometimes with a silver reflector.
“I do RAW processing and most of the color correction and color grading in Lightroom,” says Anti. “Then I do compositing and retouching in Photoshop. [The photos] are not necessarily compositing heavy, but I always incorporate some level of it in my work. I’m also a perfectionist and give a lot of attention to the details.
“That’s why I spend some time cleaning things up with the clone stamp and healing brush, perfecting shapes with liquify, and making local color and contract adjustments with masks. In the end, I may apply some effects like extra color work, contrast, or textures like rain and snow.
“On average, I spend 3-5 hours per photo.”
Anti’s Beginnings as a Photographer
“I’ve always been a creative person,” says the environmental photographer. “As a child, I was good at painting and crafts. In 2010 I discovered photography and fell in love with it. With only $400 worth of savings, I bought my first DSLR camera [while in the university in Ukraine studying metallurgy, the field for which she received her diploma.]
“Unfortunately, I didn’t have an art background, access to professional education in my country, teaching experts or tutorials, mentors, or photographer friends. So, I had to learn everything by myself. I gained all my knowledge and inspiration through social media and online photography communities. By trial and error and analyzing other photographers’ work, I learned and improved.
“When I got into photography, I struggled to find myself for a while. Like many of us, I was trying different genres. But I was certain about one thing: I wanted to shoot something that would be different from everybody else.
“When I started shooting people, I wanted to do something beyond just simple portraits. I wanted to show something that could not be seen, add a story, convey an atmosphere, and create a compelling image.
“So, I started experimenting, playing with different lenses and shooting techniques, using props, editing in Photoshop, and adding special effects to my photographs using compositing. A year later, I started creating fine art surrealistic female portraits, which became my preferable genre and a hallmark of my work.”
Her earlier project, Butterflies in My Stomach, was very personal and reflected her struggle with a dark period in her life. But with 2.5 Seconds, she hopes to bring awareness about climate change, start a conversation about the issue, and educate more people about the facts, the urgency of the crisis, and the seriousness of its consequences.
“This 3-year-long experience taught me a lot,” admits Anti. “I learned about what I am capable of. I learned about people and relationships; I made new connections, did a lot of research, and made many lifestyle changes to live more sustainably.
“I’m a different person now. And I’m very proud of the final artwork and how this project came out. My only hope is for it to have at least a little impact or influence on how we treat the Earth.”
About the author: Phil Mistry is a photographer and teacher based in Atlanta, GA. He started one of the first digital camera classes in New York City at The International Center of Photography in the 90s. He was the director and teacher for Sony/Popular Photography magazine’s Digital Days Workshops. You can reach him here.
Image credits: All photographs by Anya Anti