Fabio Cian

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Climate Labs (to be)

In 2016 for my PhD, from January to April, I was hosted by Columbia University as a visiting scientist. I arrived on a cold day and the first thing that happened -as soon as I got my stamp on the passport- was to discover that my return flight was 6 hours beyond the expiry date of my visa. I couldn’t even enjoy for a second my first arrival in the US that I had already to fight to change my unchangeable flight. I won’t tell this boring story, it’s enough to say that it ended with the purchase of a new ticket, super economy, straight to Milan, and a following train to Venice. And that to recover on the wasted money I saved on food and coffee for two months. 

In between, thousands of things to tell, which I won’t. This is not the place. 

Except one. 

Very important. One of the most important for me as a photographer. 

In New York, I gave to myself the fantastic, and hard-earned, opportunity to attend a course of Documentary Photography at the International Center of Photography (ICP), on the 6thavenue, between the 42ndand the 43rdstreet. One block from Times Square. 

During the course, we had to work on a project of our choice. I wanted to do something linked to climate change, the broader topic of my PhD. The ideas that I came up with where not convincing. From documenting garbage disposal in the city, to bad consumeristic behavior in US, to street art with climate/environmental subjects, something was not right plus I could not find the time to go around the city. Those months were the last of my final year of the PhD. I had no time, I was working 7 days a week as well as many nights and early mornings. I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t want to waste the opportunity, quite expensive, to have the teacher going through my material and helping me to improve my project. 

One day I had the illumination. I realized that the place where I was working could have been a really interesting subject. The Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory is a campus of the Columbia University about 30 miles north of New York, immersed on the wood by a wild shore of the Hudson river. It was converted from a weekend residence of a rich Wall Street banker to a research center in the 1950s. Two were the main things that made me think about it as a documentary subject: it was located in a very beautiful and unconventional place, and it was full of weird places where people were doing interesting climate science. 

As soon as I started to ask for information about that place, I realized that it also had a fascinating history. 

I had decided. 

I wanted to document the laboratories where climate science was carried out. 

I didn’t know it back then, but this is how “Climate Labs” began.

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