Passionate about the natural world, Louis was invited to document the historic Climate Conference COP26 in Glasgow, with the Leica M10-R at hand.
It all started in 1995, with his adventurous spirit but no journalistic experience, he found his way on to The European newspaper as their Environmental Correspondent. It was an exhilarating ride through deadline ally covering stories across Europe, from receding glaciers in the Alps to mink whale ‘harvesting’ off the Lofoten Islands in Norway. To continue his travel fix, Louis started to freelance as a writer and photographer for Condé Nast Traveller. In 2005, he founded his own agency in London working as a Creative Director on campaigns that included educating the public on habitat destruction from mass tourism, species invasion, shark finning and deforestation. Then, inspired by the work of Wade Davis but with no filmmaking experience and no budget, Louis made his first short documentary ‘Los Guardianes’ in Sierra Nevada, which explores the ancient indigenous cultures of the Tairona Tribes in Northern Colombia directly hit by climate change. His film was previewed at COP26.
Tell us about your experience at COP26 this year…
Wild and emotional! COP26 was the most extraordinary gathering of indigenous leaders, artists, creators, changemakers, policy makers and the rest. The real COP was not inside the Blue Zone with all the politicians, but out on the streets. The passion and frustration were palpable.
Every day for two solid weeks, there was the strongest sense of community and camaraderie where celebrities, students, models, musicians, school children, parents, workers came together, united by their humanity and a deep desire to address the climate crisis.
I was there to support MINGA INDIGENA (‘minga’ means ‘a collective calling’) representing indigenous nations throughout the American continent. From the highest communities in the Andes to communities deep within the Amazon rainforest, their mission is to help humanity understand its place and responsibilities towards the natural world. For them, we are all nature.
Inspiring artists and changemakers joined such as Al Gore, Leonardo di Caprio, Lily Cole, Es Devlin, Nick Mulvey, Aurora, Andy Cato, Jack Harries, Alice Aedy, Bruce Parry, Sam Lee, Mac Macartney, Farhana Yamin and Tom Mustill. And there was so much going on… from gigs to workshops, radio shows to ceremonies, photography exhibitions to street protests, immersive sound experiences to art installations, and churches, temples and charities providing warm food for all the volunteers.
Was there anything that took you by surprise/caught your eye?
The urgency of the climate crisis was evident everywhere we went. Emotions were riding high.
There was a special bond between people from all walks of life, all ends of the social spectrum and from 200 countries around the world. A sea of faces, each with a story to tell. On the streets of Glasgow, you would see the indigenous leaders wearing their traditional costumes, with feather head dresses and technicoloured ceremonial gowns.
Despite the schizophrenic weather, from squally autumn showers and freezing temperatures to a few better days with blue skies and sunshine, there was a festival atmosphere all over Glasgow. Everyone came together, united by a common goal – for the world to unite immediately in making the climate crisis and climate justice the biggest priority in history.
For the thousands of indigenous people from all over the world, many had never left their home or countries before. And yet they dug deep to deal with very complicated travel logistics and COVID-19 paperwork, turned up with so much pride and focus on having their voices heard by the world’s media to share their ancient cultures and wisdom through ceremonies, rituals, music, chants, dance and talks.
Holding the camera in my hands was like holding a small piece of history. A step back in time to a slower pace of life, the more mindful analogue age before we started drowning in the age of information and technology. I was beaming. I have read so much about Leica cameras and have been so inspired by some of the photographers who have used them. The Leica M10-R is a precious tool. Its compact size meant that I could be agile and fast. It allowed me to get close to people. I was often seen lying on the pavements or below a massive flaming fire bowl trying to get that interesting angle.
For those who recognised the camera, who were many, it was always a conversation starter. I made new friends everywhere I went! And I was starting to see the world around me from a whole new perspective. Looking for facial expressions, intimate moments, shards of light and shadow, shapes, patterns, lines, textures, and forms.
The highlight of each day was when I ditched my backpack, collapsed at my accommodation, and reviewed the shots I had taken. I was wide eyed.
Why did you decide to shoot exclusively in black and white?
COP26 is such a historic summit that future generations will continue to look back on. And so black and white was the perfect way to record the personal, the intimate, the unfolding drama, the stories, the experiences, and the memories. There are so many historic components that must be documented on camera: political, sociological, anthropological, cultural, geological, and so on. Colour would distract us from the emotional intensity of COP26!
What was the biggest inspiration/learning you took from this event?
My COP26 experience, and working with Leica, represented the greatest milestone in my life to date. This experience has introduced a new life chapter with purpose.
Since I was 5 years old, I have always wanted to be a photojournalist on the front line, but also to inspire people about the natural world and to deepen my understanding of indigenous culture. Without it thriving, humanity is doomed. At 50 years old, I finally got to be a photojournalist on a new kind of front line. I have found my creative tool in the Leica M10-R. And I have found my tribe. A tribe of storytellers from around the world who are equally passionate as me about the protection of the miracle that is, Planet Earth.
See more of Louis de Rohan’s work here.