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Embassy of Sweden in DC hosts digital talk ‘Rethink Tomorrow’ about photography exhibit

Helene Schmitz’s photographs communicate the need for environmental awareness and climate action

The Embassy of Sweden and D.C. nonprofit Focus on the Story hosted Helene Schmitz, a Swedish photographer, for a virtual artist discussion on June 17. She talked about her landscape photos as a part of the Embassy’s ‘Rethink Tomorrow’ conversation series.  

The hour-long conversation was moderated by Helene Larsson Pousette, the cultural counselor of the Swedish Embassy. The discussion addressed how humanity’s actions may destroy nature and how Schmitz’s photography unintentionally took a political stand. 

Dreamland” is a photo exhibition that focuses on two locations in Sweden: “Bedrock” features photos from the Atik mine located outside the municipality of Gällivare, and “The Forest” reveals the aftermath of a forest fire in Västmanland County.

The discussion centered around human-induced actions causing the reduction of natural reserves on Earth and ensured that people reflect on their own habits. The power of Schmitz’s photographs rests in the nuanced understanding of art appreciation, and a key theme throughout her photographs is how humans have coexisted with nature. 

“We have lost our sense of belonging, in that we don’t use nature just as a commodity,” Schmitz said during the Q&A session. “We are part of a system with all other living species and we need to do things on a smaller scale because we will ruin not only other living species but also ourselves in the end.” 

With patience and honesty, Schmitz expressed deep gratitude for the opportunity to display her art. Schmitz continued that there needs to be a shift in how people take care of the biodiversity and important industries in Sweden. 

“It was so obvious to me how we have turned nature into something completely abstract,” Schmitz said. 

Schmitz stated she is always in complete control of the photo process from start to finish. By narrowing in on two specific scenes, the photographs capture a special moment in time that places the viewer right in the middle of the problem. 

Schmitz’s art is able to tackle a complicated topic in her photographs and discuss it, but in a nonpartisan setting; and because her photos do not involve inflammatory or triggering scenes or an obvious political leaning, it seems clear she understands how to deliver her message to people who come from diverse backgrounds and cultural ideologies. 

“I don’t think art or artists should do anything [to influence politics]. As an artist you are free to do whatever you wish to do,” Schmitz said. “But for my part, it was a natural process and then I think I have been inspired by news… and what’s going on in contemporary society.”

Though Schmitz’s passion is derived from a personal place, she said she doesn’t feel that her photography morphs in tandem with her political views. 

“I'm not considering myself even now a political artist, and I don’t define myself as being that; but on the other hand you could say that any photograph of a landscape is political,” Schmitz said. “I mean you deliberately take a political standpoint when you choose how to show a landscape … This [photo series] is just something that I felt I had to do.” 

’Dreamland’ will be on display at the House of Sweden in D.C. until December 2021 

As the semester comes to an end and one of the founding members leaves American University, Section 202 has decided to take a trip down memory lane. For our fans, old and new, who are wondering how Section 202 came to be, this episode is a must. Listen along as hosts Connor Sturniolo and Liah Argiropoulos reminisce about the beginning of Section 202 and how it got to where it is now.

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