Photographer James Balog is best known for his death-defying trips to Iceland, Greenland and Alaska, where he's documented the melting icecaps using photos and time-lapse images. But he's also made stunning images of cyborgs and "techno sapiens."

Balog was just written up in the Wall Street Journal for his Extreme Ice Survey, which involves a mix of mountaineering and nature photography to capture the effects of global warming. Balog explains:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for "Extreme Ice Survey"?

A: The New Yorker asked me to shoot a story on climate change in 2005, and I wound up going to Iceland to shoot a glacier. The real story wasn't the beautiful white top. It ended up being at the terminus of the glacier where it's dying. That idea gestated in my mind for a year and eventually turned into the "Extreme Ice Survey" in 2006.

Q: How do images of glaciers collapsing bring the idea of climate change home?

A: There were a lot of repeat photos that showed glaciers retreating over a hundred years. That's pretty abstract. I wanted to show a shorter term time lapse that would make people think, "My god, little Emily was in first grade in April and she's in second grade in October. I remember this. It's happening in my life."

The EIS photos are arresting and heartbreaking — they show the icebergs breaking off from the glaciers and going out to sea, and in one case you can actually see an iceberg on a beach where surf and sand meet the deaths of the icecaps. There are some utterly lovely pictures of "meltwater" floating on top of the ice, as well as some disgusting images showing the silt-befouled water encroaching on the ice, over the past few years.


But meanwhile, Balog's site also has a section called "Techno Sapiens" which celebrates the cyborgs in our midst, including gorgeous looking artificial limbs and wearable computers. Back in 1996, Balog talked to Fortune Magazine about it:

On the following pages, photographer James Balog documents what he calls Techno sapiens: fusions of humans and machines that can be found today in American research labs and hospitals, and even on the streets. Add up the images, says Balog, and it's not hard to envision a race of flesh-and-technology beings with electric hands, legs of steel that run a two-minute mile, and perceptual powers unknown in nature. "Imagine you are a traveler from another galaxy," Balog says. "You land in North America today and look around carefully, with fresh eyes. This is what you might see."

It's an interesting contrast, but maybe not a contradiction: He worries what we're doing to the planet, but he's also celebrated the way we're transforming ourselves.


There are tons more photos at the links. [Extreme Ice Survey and James Balog Photography]

Icebergs 200 feet tall, formerly part of the Greenland Ice Sheet, float into the North Atlantic Ocean, raising sea levels as they melt.

Jökulsárlón, Iceland. Decaying ice and icebergs on the surface of the Jökulsárlón in southeast Iceland. The ice drains off the great icecap called the Vatnajökull.

Columbia Glacier, Alaska. Columbia Glacier calves icebergs into Columbia Bay west of Valdez, Alaska. The ice shown in the bergs was deposited in snowstorms 300 to 500 years ago.

Columbia Glacier, Alaska. Contrasts between clean glacial melt water and water laden with eroded silt color these lakes on the surface of the East Fork of Columbia Glacier. Black stripes are erosional debris called "moraines."

Svínafellsjökull Glacier, Iceland. An EIS team member provides scale in a massive landscape of crevasses on the Svínafellsjökull Glacier in Iceland.

Greenland Ice Sheet, Greenland. On the surface of the Greenland Ice Sheet east of Kangerlussuaq, a meltwater stream known by the French word "moulin" (in English it means "mill," as in windmill).

Icebergs calved from Whiteout Glacier, Alaska.

River water and seawater polish the surface of a berg in Iceland.

Meltwater on surface of Columbia Glacier, Columbia Bay, Alaska.

Decaying ice and icebergs on the surface of the Jökulsárlón in southeast Iceland. The ice drains off the great icecap called the Vatnajokull.

Meltwater on surface of Columbia Glacier, Columbia Bay, Alaska.

Kenny's Arm

Breathing Observation Bubble

Wearable computer