By Zach Boblitt
Medill Reports, Jan. 1, 2024
The art of adding imagery to visualize climate science can be a difficult task. Two visual artists focused on blending imagery with science add drama and understanding to the climate story while personalizing a viewer’s response.
Artist Ellen Litwiller and photographer Jasmin Shah talked about bringing science to the eye at their presentations about visual partnerships with researchers and curators during the annual fall Comer Climate Conference in southwestern Wisconsin.
Litwiller’s murals, models, illustrations and paintings are featured in natural history museums, on websites, in private collections and in science books. The devil is in the details for Litwiller. When she works making dioramas for museums she gets input from scientists on how to get everything from the coloration of plants to the plumage of a bird.
“Every time you go to a museum, a natural history museum, evyerhting that you see in those museums, somebody made, pretty much, I mean, other than the fossils and the shells, like other than the natural elements. Somebody has taken that scientific information and made something of it.” Litwiller said.
A cross-section of her work can be found on her website.
Shah is also focused on detail in her work. Scouting out remote landscapes from Peru to New Zealand and capturing the personalities of scientists in closeup portraits are important factors in her photography. The images she’s taken of climate scientists in the field and the lab is a focal point of her presentation.
When it comes to bringing climate science information to general audiences, she believes that an image can bring out the humanity that’s
inherently within the science.
“If you’re just a normal everyday person, you can’t jump right into the young glacial moraines you know and the dating and all that. But if you see them, working on it, maybe you’ll be interested in what they are doing.” Shah said.
Shah is a self-described nomad photographer. She lived in a van driving across the U.S. taking portraits of people on their porches during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Outside of her photography, she recently delved into the world of podcasting. She was a field producer for the podcast “The Coldest Case in Laramie”. The podcast was lauded by Apple Podcasts as the seventh most popular new show of 2023.
Listen to an audio report about Shah’s Litwiller’s their presentations at the 2023 Comer Climate Conference.