Model Helena Christensen examines climate change in Peru


Former Danish fashion model and photographer Helena Christensen poses at the launch of her new exhibition of photographs highlighting the threat of climate change on people living in Peru, in central London.

Former Danish fashion model and photographer Helena Christensen poses at the launch of her new exhibition of photographs highlighting the threat of climate change on people living in Peru, in central London.

The City& My Life|AFPSupermodel-turned-photographer Helena Christensen urged politicians and world leaders to commit to real changes at the upcoming Copenhagen climate talks, as she launched a photo exhibition in London documenting climate change in Peru.

Christensen, who is half-Danish, half-Peruvian, travelled to her mother’s native country to capture the effects of climate change on the indigenous people, in a joint project with Oxfam.

The resulting images, a selection of colour and black-and-white images shot using film, digital and Polaroid cameras, went on display in London’s Proud Gallery on Thursday.

Christen, 40, said she jumped at the chance to take part. “To be able to do something for the country that my mother is from was a very important reason as to why I went along,” she told AFP.

“And Oxfam reaches so many people I figured it was definitely a way to bring awareness about what was going on prior to the climate conference in Copenhagen.

World leaders will gather in Copenhagen from December 7-18 for talks to prepare the way for a new climate deal to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

Hopes have been dashed in recent weeks that the talks would lead to a binding agreement on cutting emissions and helping developing countries deal with the effects of climate change.

Christensen stressed that the real responsibilities lie with those in power.

“As the people, we can only do so much. Politicians and world leaders are the ones who have the power to actually make drastic changes.

“I really hope that for once the politicians will come up with some rules, some new ways of stopping the enormous amount of carbon dioxide that is being pumped into this world.”

In Peru, Christensen witnessed first-hand the effects retreating glaciers have on local farmers.

As the glaciers melt and the rivers dry up, Christensen said there was not enough water to sustain the indigenous farmers and alpaca herders she visited.

“Whole communities are losing their main source of income,” Christensen said, adding that villagers were being forced to leave the mountains and move into cities.

“These cultures will disappear,” she said. “And it’s really sad, because it’s such a special part of South America.”

Oxfam estimates that in the past 30 years, 22 percent of the surface of Peru’s glaciers has been lost.

One of the original supermodels in the nineties, Christensen, 40, has successfully reinvented herself as a photographer since putting a hold on her career before the cameras.

Contrary to popular belief, the mother-of-one explains she was actually a photographer before she went into modelling.

“I started doing photography when I was a teenager and in my early twenties I went to Paris to begin my modelling career.

“I thought it was a way to combine both — if I got to travel a lot with my modelling career, I would get to take photos as well. For me it was the perfect way of doing two things that I really enjoyed.

“Then, I guess modelling took over for quite a while.”

She said she got serious about photography when she had her son, who is now ten years old.

“Suddenly I found myself working more as a photographer and now I think I’m doing probably 30 percent of one and 30 percent of the other and for the rest I do completely different things. So it’s a perfect combination.”

With years of experience in front of the camera posing for some of the world’s best fashion photographers, Christensen admits she picked up tips along the way.

“I hope I absorbed everything I could from them. I was so lucky to work with some of the greats. It was almost like being in photography school all those years.”

The photo exhibition Meltdown will be on display in London from November 19-29.

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