WHERE EARTH MEETS SKIN
I work as a freelance photojournalist based in Portland, Maine. For several years, I’ve been working on an ongoing series about climate change as a human rights issue. Often, these issues reach the same audiences. After documenting jasmine harvests in the foothills of France’s alps, and talking with Carole Biancalana about how climate change impacts her harvests, I began to think about ways to explore contemporary human and environmental issues through the ingredients in everyday cosmetics, haircare and skin products. I believe that now, people are interested more than ever, in waking up to the world, taking part in activism, exploring social issues, and finding ways to reconnect to the natural world.
I’m sharing images from two “chapters” of this story that I’ve already photographed: jasmine and seaweed harvesting for use in cosmetics. And, I’ve researched and outlined potential places, ingredients, and topics that could be included in this series. While it would include substantial travel, I will be in some of these areas in the coming year and we may be able to combine this shoot with other work and assignments to cut down on costs.
Imagery style: epic, minimal, graceful approach to documentary storytelling.
Content scope: emphasis on female producers, exploration of both positive and negative components of each story.
Jasmine is a classic note in perfumes and scented products, with flowers harvested and extracted into an essential oil. Most high-end perfumeries grow their jasmine in Grasse, France, which has been considered the world’s perfume capitol since the Renaissance, when the ares started producing aromatics to combat the stench of tanneries and leather making. Aromatics and perfumeries are still the primary employer of Grasse, although local aromatic farmers worry about the impacts of climate change on their product: jasmine requires exact conditions for growth and harvesting.
I have already photographed jasmine farming at the women- owned Le Domaine de Manon, where Carole Biancalana is a fifth-generation jasmine farmer, producing essences exclusively for Dior.
Uses: perfumes, scented products
Seaweed and seaweed extracts are becoming more popular in skincare products, with hydrating and anti-inflammatory benefits. Seaweed is a highly sustainable product, either wild-harvested or through aquaculture, it needs no additional water resources or fertilizers and helps prevent ocean acidification while cleaning the ocean of carbon dioxide, helping combat the effects of climate change.
I have already photographed this process, documenting seaweed harvesting in Maine’s Casco Bay for use in Seaweed Bath Co.’s products (found nationwide at Target, Whole Foods, etc).
Uses: shampoos, lotions, skincare products
Talc mined worldwide, with mines from the Mojave Desert to India. Talc is the softest known mineral, and is mined Some talc is known to carry carcinogen asbestos. As consumers become increasingly aware, many makeup companies are working to make products with certified asbestos-free powders and other products, like rice powder. In India, illegal talc mines in protected habitat areas have threatened tigers and other animals.
Used in: powders, dry shampoo.
Cocoa, the main component in chocolate, is also made into cocoa butter, a classic body skin care product. Cocoa trees grow within 20 degrees of the equator, with over 70% produced four West African countries: Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, and Cameroon. Cocoa is deeply at-risk of worsening impacts of climate change, as small-scale farmers cope with increasing temperatures, floods, new pests and diseases, and other effects. Some areas have already become unsuitable for sustaining cocoa plants.
Uses: lotions, skincare
Argan oil harvested and extracted in Morocco. Argan trees protect from desertification and soil erosion and provide shade for pastureland and can help replenish aquifers. The resurgence in using argan oil has helped support 2.2 million people in Essaouira, mostly produced by women’s cooperatives.
Used in: oil cleansers, hair products, lotions.
Mica is a shiny, metallic mineral used in eyeshadows, mined primarily in India, and has been at the center of an ongoing debate about child labor. In 2017, mica mining was legalized to allow for better regulation of mining practices. As of that time, 20,000 children were working in mica mines, and it is unclear what will happen to the families that depended on the income from selling mica. Indian labor officials are working to set up a system that employs local adults, but representatives from NGOs say that it depends on each company’s policies and practices.
Used in: eyeshadows, skin highlighters.
Burt’s Bees put bee-based products on the map, using beeswax and honey in most of their products, sourced from four family farms in West Africa. By the numbers, there are more honey bees than other pollinators, supporting our food system. In 2006 and 2007, beekeepers began to notice the sudden death of their hives, called Colony Collapse Disorder. By 2013, more than 10 million beehives were lost, without a scientifically-proven cause. To address the problem, people have been eliminating garden pesticides, supporting organic food systems, and planting pollinating plants. However, the resurgence of beekeeping in Ethiopia has helped buoy employment, especially for Ehtiopian youth, reduces local food insecurity, and helps prevent deforestation.
Used in: chapsticks, skin products, shampoos. Honey is also the source of Panthenol, used in mascara.