Joan Sullivan

With Their Own Hands
Location: Quebec, Canada
Nationality: Canadian
Biography: Nothing is more urgent than shifting the global climate change conversation from despair to optimism, from apathy to action. Since 2009, I have focused my cameras (and more recently my drones) exclusively on the energy transition, creating... MORE
Public Story
With Their Own Hands
Copyright Joan Sullivan 2023
Date of Work Jan 2016 - Ongoing
Updated Mar 2018
Location Canada
Topics Climate Change, Documentary, Energy, Photography, Technology

The shift to decarbonize our economy is not simply about replacing pipelines and power plants with PV panels. It is also about jobs, hundreds of thousands of newly created jobs. In Canada and the United States, many of these new jobs are being filled by laid-off fossil fuel workers disillusioned with the volatile boom-and-bust cycles of the oil and gas industry. The transition of energy workers from the tarsands to renewables, part of an irreversible global trend, has not yet been visually documented in Canada, where I live.

Over the next year, I will track a cohort of laid-off tarsands workers as they transition to new jobs on renewable energy construction sites across Canada. These journeymen/women - electricians, millwrights, ironworkers, carpenters - are literally building, with their own hands, our clean energy future. By focusing my cameras (DSLR, drone, video) on the people at the heart of this historic energy transition, I hope to shift the climate change conversation away from polarizing politics by drawing our attention closer to home: to the men and women, the mothers and fathers, the friends and neighbors who, against great odds, are already adapting to a rapidly changing world - perhaps better than the rest of us.

My portraits of these workers before-and-after their transition will serve as a metaphor of the global energy transition to which we are all witnesses, but which some refuse to see. I celebrate the talented men and women building the clean energy infrastructure required to meet our Paris climate commitments. Without them, the technical solutions to climate change would not be rolled-out, from distributed energy to cleantech to electric transport.

This project builds upon 10 years experience photographing the construction of some of North America's largest utility-scale wind and solar projects. For this project, I have partnered with Iron and Earth, a non-profit organization based in Alberta (the heartland of Canada's oil and gas industry) that is dedicated to helping Canada's oil, gas, coal and indigenous workers obtain the skills required to transition to clean energy jobs. One of the planned outcomes of this partnership is a pan-Canadian art exhibit that will be held in each province. At the opening of each exhibit, the workers who were photographed from that province will be invited to share stories about their personal transition with the general public. By sharing their own stories, these workers become the human face of the global energy transition.

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