Skip to main content
The Ruby is a catalyst for creativity and a new home for making art at Duke University.

We See the Change: The Human Cost of a Warming Climate

As the impacts of climate change and hydropower dams take hold on the Mekong, their combination has a human cost.

Project Date: March 9 to 30, 2018

About the Project

James Robinson (Environmental Science and Policy, Class of 2020) will use the Ruby to prep photographs and create installations for this Power Plant Gallery exhibition—one in a series of professional development opportunities for students at Duke.

We See the Change is an interdisciplinary endeavor that explores how the visual arts can be combined with storytelling and sciences in order to deepen our collective understanding of complex issues. For this reason, I would deeply value being a part of the social fabric at the Ruby during the incubation period for the installation pieces.”—James Robinson

The photographs and voices included in We See The Change: The Human Cost of a Warming Climate provide a glimpse into the lives of millions living along the Mekong River who are impacted by climate change – a force that has been compounded by the construction of numerous large-scale hydropower dams.

Collectively, their stories and perspectives illuminate two fundamental truths. First, that the world’s poorest and most vulnerable individuals – those who have contributed the least to climate change – have been the first to be thrust onto its front lines. And secondly, the all life on Earth is interconnected. By examining the overlap of these two truths, the detached abstraction of climate change is given a human face.

Because our understanding of such changes is only as tangible as the metrics we use to measure them, it is critical that these metrics include stories. Such glimpses, which reach beyond the face of data to the human mirror, reveal not only a broader sense of the impact but also the narrowness of the perspective from which climate change arose.

From Sinaduji, Rinchen, Ai Po and eight-year-old Oudom, threads of connection, rather than boundaries of abstraction, offer a nuanced understanding that conjoins compassion with science, binding together that which the map divides.

black and white photo of a boy viewed from behind holding a lantern
Explore the project
The exhibition is based on a photo book that was assembled as an independent study project with Michaela O’Brien through the Department of Art, Art History, and Visual Studies.
Power Plant Gallery
The exhibit opens to the public in the Power Plant Gallery on April 20, 2018, 5–8pm. (Artist talk begins at 6:30pm.)

About the Artist

As a member of a generation that is often noted for putting themselves in front of a camera, James Robinson has found his place behind it, where his view is always changing and his perspective transforming. His interest in filmmaking began while questioning a single dotted line across the map of China. This line was the demarcation for Tibet. As he learned the history of that line, it would fuel the next ten years of his life, as he set out to interview Tibetans-in-exile, and assemble his first documentary.

James’ passion for storytelling intensified in 2015, during which he spent three months traveling down the Mekong River in order to document the impacts of climate change and hydropower dams on the river’s wild-catch fishery. He plans to continue making documentary films, highlighting individuals whose stories may have slipped from the mainstream consciousness, yet whose perspectives are imperative to our understanding of our planet, each other, and ourselves.

James is a major in Environmental Sciences and Policy at Duke University (Class of 2020) and pursuing his Certificate in Documentary Studies from the Center For Documentary Studies at Duke University.

Supported by

Tune into events & opportunities!

Sign up for our newsletter