Inspired by the looming threat of climate change, photographer Benjamin Von Wong pulled out all the stops to create a collection of surreal storm-chasing portraits. The Quebec-based shutterbug was spurred to action by “Cowspiracy,” a crowdfunded documentary released in 2014 that explores the environmental impact of large-scale animal agricultural operations.
“We live in a rapidly changing world right now, and whether we admit it or not, our lifestyle is pretty unsustainable for the environment around us,” Wong explains in a video about the project (below). “I wanted to create a series of images that would highlight everyday normal people [doing] normal activities with the building up of a storm in the background.”
To spark introspection, all the photos in the series follow a common theme: “Climate change doesn’t care about …”
As we go about our lives, it’s easy to get wrapped up in our current needs and wants without considering the long-term consequences of our actions. Whether this shortsightedness is rooted in blissful ignorance or outright stubbornness, it doesn’t matter. Climate change is already here, and many scientists worry that we may already be past the point of no return.
Von Wong is well-known for his ambitious photo projects, but this one was perhaps one of the most challenging.
“Not only had I never chased a storm in my life, I had also never planned a project around an uncontrollable force of nature,” Wong writes. “I needed to find someone who could not only safely navigate storms, but one who understood photography and would be capable of getting me in the right position to capture the shot.”
That’s where Kelly DeLay came in. As a Texas-based weather and environmental photographer with more than seven years of storm-chasing experience, DeLay was more than qualified to act as Wong’s guide through this ambitious endeavor.
To ensure the safety and success of everyone involved, DeLay was upfront about what Wong should expect out in the field. First, they’d have to be prepared to set up and tear down the photoshoot within 10-15 minutes. Second, they wouldn’t have any control over where the storm would lead them. And finally, Wong would have to understand that there would be no guarantee that he would even get the shots he wanted.
In addition to enlisting DeLay’s help, Wong reached out to his vast network of fans who were eager to help out with the project by modeling, providing props and, in one case, supplying an ambulance to carry cargo.
“Although not the fastest or the most nimble, [the ambulance] was capable of fitting the spontaneous props we would be transporting around with us — from sofa to toilet seat,” Wong explained. “Another advantage was that we could transform the ambulance into a mobile protected light-box to make sure we didn’t lose time setting up lights.”
Von Wong and his team used an ambulance to haul themselves, their equipment and their props from one shooting location to the next. (Photo: Anna Tenne)
Once all the logistical details were in order (well, as much as they can be when you’re chasing a force of nature), Wong and his team spent 10 days driving up and down the Great Plains of the United States hunting for massive, dramatic-looking storms. Of course, maintaining your artistic vision in the face of uncontrollable weather is no easy task.
“I thought that Kelly had been exaggerating when he said that I would have 10-15 minutes per shot. I learned very quickly that he wasn’t,” Wong explained. “The storms we were tracking would move at over 30 mph, and too often, we would lose precious time trying to find the perfect road to get us into the right position to set up our shots.”
Thankfully, all that flexibility and hard work paid off, and Wong has a stunning set of surreal storm-chasing portraits to show for it. Check out the short video below for a thrilling behind-the-scenes look at how the 10-day photoshoot went: