Jon Lewis is an Australian-born documentary photographer, who first exhibited in Sydney in 1974.
He was a member of Sydney’s “Yellow House” in the early 70s, went on to make an experimental video with “Bush Video” and in 1977 was a founder of Greenpeace Australia, which led a successful campaign to end the slaughter of whales in that country. Over the course of his more than 40-year-long career as a documentary photographer, he has taught photography in Australia and France, shown his work in galleries and festivals in numerous countries and received several grants.
His interests are reflected in his photography, and when not photographing or teaching, Lewis lives in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales, where he schemes for sponsorship, reads, writes and hunts wild pigs.
In 2003, he was a finalist of the 50 Crows International Fund for Documentary Photography. His photographs have been published worldwide in several magazines and books, and his project on Kiribati resulted in his last book Portraits from the Edge: Kiribati – Putting a Face to Climate Change, published in 2010.
A Face to Climate Change, Kiribati
Photograph by Jon Lewis from Portraits from the Edge - A Face to Climate Change.
Outer Island Student-Betio
When Australian documentary photographer Jon Lewis first traveled to the Melanesian island of Bouganville, in Papua New Guinea, its residents kept on pointing at the shoreline. It took a while for him to realize they were trying to show him something was wrong: the disappearing shoreline was a sign of how profoundly climate change was affecting — and frightening — them. With the financial support provided soon after by a private donor, in 2009 Lewis returned to explore the issue even further in Kiribati.
“These people were to be casualties of climate change and no one had addressed this idea,” Lewis said in a phone interview.
He remembers landing on the island-nation in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and seeing people's homes: the walls made of rocks, strands and sticks, the foundations of a house completely exposed. He almost took it all for granted.
“It had all been eroded away, but an untrained eye would have just accepted the situation,” Lewis said.
The land was completely dried. Without a source of fresh water, all the trees had died. The extant water was bitter, tainted by the ocean. Kiribati’s desolate landscape was a direct result of climate change.
“The more time you spend in a place, the better you understand the issue, the better the photography,” said Lewis.
His aim was to show what’s beautiful about the inhabitants of the island, while trying to address the issue of climate change. The involvement of the photographer, who spent six months working on his documentary project in Kiribati, has been consistent throughout his life – even before he started Greenpeace in Australia in 1977.
“It’s always about scientists — no one even thinks about how Kiribatis think about climate change,” Lewis continued. ”I remember once a group of scientists met with the Kiribatis and an old lady arrived. She didn’t know anything about climate change, but said she felt the sun was getting closer to their atoll. They have a sense of what’s happening, but perhaps they haven’t fully understood the severity of it.”