It was the day when humanity first landed on the moon. A young photographer was lost on the edge of the Sahara Desert. Suddenly a Tuareg appeared on a camel and rescued him.
“He took me to his companions, sat me down on a rock and went into his hut,” remembers the photographer Mark Edwards. “He reappeared with an umbrella, a cassette player and two pieces of wood. He rubbed the sticks together and made a fire. We boiled a pot of water and had a nice cup of tea.
“Then he turned on the cassette player and Bob Dylan sang ‘A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall’: sad forests, dead oceans, where the people are many and their hands are all empty. I could feel the words—the whole song—taking root in me. As Dylan piled image upon image, I had the idea to illustrate each line of the song.”
It took him decades to do it, but it ended up with an exhibition which—with Dylan's blessing, and early backing from UNEP—has toured the world, being seen so far by 15 million people. And this September it will be relaunched in a new guise in universities around the world to coincide with the planned adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Dylan—now in his mid 70s—calls “Hard Rain”, which he first performed aged 21, “a song of desperation, a song of terror”. It first received resonance from the so-called Cuban Missile Crisis, which broke out a few weeks after its release, but now—largely thanks to Edwards, and with the singer-songwriter's approval—has come to portray the interlinked environmental, economic and social crises facing the world that are to be addressed by the Goals.
Dylan has said that the words of the song “came fast—very fast. Line after line, trying to capture the feeling of nothingness”. Edwards, who as a result of his experience in the desert became the first photographer of his generation to specialize in photographing environmental and developmental issues, has retorted, “The pictures came slowly”, throughout a career that has taken him to over 100 countries.
“I never knew when a line from ‘Hard Rain’ would appear before me: a man carrying his wife to safety during a flood in Bangladesh; my god-daughter, surrounded by bubbles, showing me how high she could jump on her trampoline; a man, whose family was too poor to cremate him, being eaten by dogs behind the Taj Mahal.”
Finally Edwards launched the travelling exhibition in 2006, hoping that, by seeing it, “it should not take quite so much imagination for us to understand the future scientists are predicting”.
UNEP was a founding partner of the project and, with Dylan's permission, the exhibition has been seen in big cities on every continent, in many universities, and at the UN's New York headquarters—and has been endorsed by leading figures around the world.
From September it is to be shown with a new display, called “Whole Earth” which—again in collaboration with Dylan—will concentrate on presenting solutions to environmental, social and economic issues, in partnership with the British National Union of Students. It will be continually updated, and challenge those who see it to take immediate action.
“Those who see it will hopefully realize that the problems are interlinked and that they need to be tackled together,” Edwards told Our Planet.
For as Dylan himself once said, “It doesn't really matter where a song comes from. It just matters where it takes you.”
See more at: www.hardrainproject.com