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The Pacific’s changing pictures

Vlad Sokhin stares down the lens of the camera, focuses on the shot ahead and clicks for that one moment forever lost in time, but still cannot believe what truly lies right in front of his own eyes.

That is the disbelief of a changing environment across a once tropical paradise.

The shape of the landscape is never the same twice after first flying over blue waters back in 2013.

Never the same in Kiribati, in Tuvalu, in Tokelau, even in the Solomon Islands.

“The changes were happening so constantly,” Sokhin says.

“I heard that some of the people I saw were moving out from some little atolls and islands.

“Then you hear some work from journalists on this, and then years later you come again and it’s not there anymore – they’re gone.

“While islands are still there, and I can’t say that they are full submerged, but they are not liveable as they used to be before.”

pacific climate change ocean
Picture: Vlad Sokhin

The documentary photographer and filmmaker, multimedia producer and now an author of two gut-wrenching but diverse books spent a chunk of the past decade unpacking bags in the Pacific.

After much of three years capturing harrowing images from the epidemic of violence against women in Papua New Guinea, the Russian-born
Sokhin could not be blamed for thinking his next assignment would be less painful and more beautiful than all the scars and injuries of the helpless victims.

But the hope that documenting the reality of climate change will convince the mindset of sceptics all over the globe is worth the effort after aiding the repeal of laws against male abusers in PNG.

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“One purpose of this, of course, is to show the evidence of what is happening,” Sokhin says.

“Not just for people in the big nations, but for everyone.

“If you go for many years to the Pacific and show just a little bit here or there, the project will be sparse.

“I wanted a place where I can put all of this together in the form of a story.

climate change pacific
Picture: Vlad Sokhin

“I wrote it in the book that this is like a window for those that hear about it, but live in the countries that they cannot experience it or travel too far away.

“The Pacific, as we know, and it is a cliché, is the frontline of climate change because you can see with your own eyes that those fragile islands are the first part of that change.”

Five years of shooting extensively in not only the Pacific but also Alaska resulted in Warm Waters.

So detailed is the latest publication that Sokhin spent a further three years on selecting the perfect images that incapsulated the raw affects of
global warming on the islands.

But the witness, the intermediary, as he talks about his work wanted to point out that this was never a holiday in some far-flung destination for fun. Far from it.

“This is my job – I don’t go as a tourist – to come in and find things like that,” Sohkin says.

“You can see that things are happening faster now because of the weather pattern changing.

pacific climate change
Picture: Vlad Sokhin

“The big cyclones when they come, you can see with your own eyes that the changes are happening.

“Being there at the right time, the right place has been amazing because you cannot organise nature for your photoshoot.”

Sokhin remembers vividly arriving in the aftermath of Cyclone Pam that devastated Tuvalu in 2015.

The little infrastructure the country had was destroyed.

When the high tide came in, the capital, Funafuti, was flooded.

Tokelau watched and built sea walls. The higher the better.

pacific climate change
Picture: Vlad Sokhin

Measuring at least seven-metres tall, Sokhin felt he was inside a fortress that protected its biggest village, Atafu.

“When you approach it, you’re like it is not a normal Pacific island,” he said.

Kiribati’s low-lying atoll and reef islands have struggled.

Its average elevation is two metres above sea level.

The community repeatedly builds sea walls but to no avail.

Sokhin once snapped the shots of the sea wall, but on his return two years later it had disappeared.

“There was a real negative side to that, but at the same time I could also see positive changes of how the people tried to be more resilient and
tried to fight this – I don’t know if that is possible to fight – but they did to make their lives there better,” he said.

Besides the advocation of the future of small Pacific island communities and their way of life, there is a point to holding that camera out from his face.

pacific climate change
Picture: Vlad Sokhin

He wants the world to know the story of the often voiceless.

“One purpose is, of course, to show the evidence of what is happening,” Sokhin says.

“Not just for people in the big nations, but for everyone.

“If you go for many years to the Pacific and show just a little bit here or there, the project will be sparse.

“I wanted a place where I can put all of this together in the form of a story.

“I wrote it in the book that this is like a window for those that hear about it, but lives in the countries that they cannot experience it or travel too far away.

“The Pacific as we know, and it is a cliché, it is the frontline of climate change because you can see with your own eyes that those fragile islands are the first part of that change.”

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