7 minute read

A Changing Climate

Documenting the glacial destruction of the Pacific Northwest, Santino Martirano’s images highlight the brutal effects of a worsening environmental crisis

As the planet barters with an alarming ecological predicament, Santino Martirano remains steadfast in his convictions. “It’s so important to talk about the glaciers melting here, at home, in the continental US. It’s happening right now, in our backyard,” he begins. “This project is about providing people with a relatable perspective, so they can acknowledge the importance of this topic first-hand.” Traveling to the North Pole in 2019, Santino sailed further north than any non-icebreaker vessel ever has. “In a sense, that’s pretty cool, right?” he jokes, before catching himself, mid-thought. “It’s also not something I feel especially proud of.”

Mulling the implications of this strangely framed feat, the voyage incentivized another excursion – more local in scope, but just as important in purpose. Scaling Mt. Baker in a T-shirt, Santino also flew over Mt. Rainier in a seacraft airliner, documenting the recession of the glaciers with his Fujifilm camera. Offsetting his footprint with the Protect our Winters ‘Cost of Carbon’ calculator, Santino created a series of visually stunning images, attesting to the majesty and spectacle of Washington’s highest peaks. As summits warp and floes fade, he plans to detail the staggering sense of loss currently consuming the landscape, aiming to provoke some level of response in his native American viewership.

As the world’s ice caps gradually melt and liquify, Santino’s outlook is a welcome reprieve from the customary doom and gloom. After all, this is a truly absurd situation, and it doesn’t seem to be improving in any meaningful way. A unanimous scientific community issues countless unheeded warnings. Carbon emissions continue to proliferate. Sustainable solutions are universally shunned.

For Santino, his passion for photography began with the adventure of the great outdoors and, more specifically, the environment. From skateboarding to street snaps, he cut his teeth in external surroundings, and a deep-seated affection is clear. “I’m no scientist or glaciologist,” he says. “I’m simply a photographer and athlete who loves these spaces. If we want to continue to enjoy them, we need to make a change. If you take away people’s sense of fun and recreation, I think you can create empathy. Nobody wants to lose the things they care about, so once you make it important in that way, the issues become more apparent.” Forcing us to confront the closeness of the issues at hand, Santino stresses this relatability as his focal point. “If you’re involved in mountaineering and see the environments you cherish deteriorating, it can’t help but become personal. That’s when people start to care.”

Pairing his X-T4 with an XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR, Santino scaled Mt. Baker over a four-day period, and soared over the pikes of Rainier with a seasoned local pilot. “Baker was something of a slog, but we got there eventually. Rainier was tough in certain ways – we got weathered out of the climb itself, so ended up flying over and documenting the erosion during the heatwave that hit. Everything was crumbling, and the situation was far too dangerous to brave on foot. We were able to see the glaciers wearing away from an aerial point of view, and I really hope I’m able to do this again, year after year. That’s the only real way to capture the sense of recession – over a prolonged period,” he proposes. Commending the endurance of his kit, he speaks to the importance of having weather-proof equipment in extreme scenarios, beginning with the lens. “The XF16-55mm has been my go-to choice since it came out in 2017. It’s fast, bright, and sharp all the way through. I brought extra lenses with me to swap on the fly, but with the X Series APS-C sensor, I was able to go as wide or tight as I wanted to from that elevated perspective. It’s also weather sealed, which is one of the main reasons why I use it. There have been times where I get fog on the back glass of other lenses, but with this one, I carried it exposed on my camera strap when climbing and had no problems whatsoever. The protection is second-to-none.”

If there’s one thing Santino appreciates, it’s the value of functionality. Though he’s clearly practiced and tech-savvy, he articulates an appreciation for the more rudimentary aspects of his X-T4 before delving any deeper. “I was on Mt. Baker for four whole days and only used two batteries. When we were flying over Rainier, I took about 2500 photos, and it was a similar story: I only used one battery. When you don’t have to worry about the system letting you down, it frees you up to focus on the creative process.” Climbing perilous terrain in particularly cold conditions, Santino also demonstrates how the kit catered to his digits. “This is a camera that you can operate with gloves. All the knobs and wheels are easy to adjust. I no longer have to freeze my fingers off when changing ISO or aperture, which is a welcome change! It never overheats – and never gets too cold. A true workhorse.”

In terms of the more specialized components of the X-T4, the camera is just as proficient, and copes well with the arduous demands of mountaineering. “When I’m using slower shutter speeds, the in-body image stabilization (IBIS) is really helpful. You can’t expect to have a steady hand all the time, especially 19,000 feet in the air, or dangling from a rope on a mountain edge! I also really love the results, straight out of camera. The colors are amazing. When I’m pulling these images into post-production, I feel like I’m overediting if I change anything. If the composition is good and the settings are straight, alterations are mostly minor. Sometimes I want to be artistic and create something a little more enhanced, but for generalized shots, the dynamic range is perfect.” Reiterating the sense of liberation the X-T4 affords his creative process, Santino reaffirms just how invaluable a smooth, unimpeded process is, as well as the equipment’s high-tech capabilities. “Like I said before, this camera allows you to focus on the art, and that’s so crucial. I can also shoot up to 1/8000 sec when using the mechanical shutter. Sometimes I think I’ll need a full frame, but it isn’t necessary, because of the Fujifilm lens quality. The EVF is also great; so clear and defined, and because it’s live, I can always review as I’m working, no matter the conditions.”

The graveness of the climate situation is rearing its ugly head once more. One thing’s for certain: this is more than urgent. It’s imperative, and something we all share a level of accountability for. “The more time I spend in the mountains, the less optimistic I grow. There were glaciers here in Colorado, now they’re gone. There were glaciers in Northern California – there aren’t any more. These are some of the few remaining glaciers in our country, and they’re disappearing year after year. The worst thing is a lot of it goes unspoken. But if I can change one person’s perspective with these photographs, that’s the biggest win of all.”