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'Iceland's Vanishing Beauty': Wisconsin Photographer Captures Impact Of Climate Change

Award-winning photojournalist Michael Kienitz's career was sparked by the Vietnam War. The Madison, Wis. native and at the time UW-Madison student says he was struck by the contrast between the protesting he saw around him and how it was reported in newspapers. Kienitz picked up a camera and never put it down.

Since then Kienitz has captured everything from children in war-torn countries to scenes of Milwaukee, where he chronicled images of homes and people in conjunction with the Pulitzer Prize-winning book Evicted, by Mathew Desmond.

READ: Award-Winning Book 'Evicted' Comes To Life Through Traveling Exhibition

"I really want to use my photography and I want to do it in a way that aesthetically people are interested in it. But I always needs a message to deliver about what the subject is or I, quite honestly, don't want to do the project," Kienitz says.

Six years ago, Kienitz turned his lens to another dramatic scene – Iceland’s vanishing glaciers. They cover an estimated 11% of the country, but they're shrinking at an alarming pace.

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Credit Susan Bence
Michael Kienitz explaining his work at Arts @ Large in Milwaukee.

Kienitz's exhibit "Iceland's Vanishing Beauty" recently opened at Arts @ Large on Milwaukee's near south side. 

The exhibition includes images captured within Vatnajokull National Park in southeast Iceland, and include the country's diverse and changing landscapes — from active volcanoes, ice caves, beaches, canyons, wetlands, glacial ice, mountains and more.

"The main reason I wanted to do this exhibition is, every single one of us in the world is impacted by [climate change]," says Kienitz. "And everyone in this world is contributing to it. As much as they would not want to — we are."

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Credit Michael Kienitz
This is the first ice cave Michael Kienitz ever visited. It has since disappeared.

Kienitz says bringing his work to Arts @ Large, the mission of which is to work with K-12 students, illustrates what art should do.  

"I've now spoken to 45 or 50 teachers. The ones who decide to come here and show the children here will receive a book that I've done on this project. They will have that to prepare the students and then they'll come here," Kienitz says. "All of them will be encouraged to do their own drawings inspired by what they're seeing here."

The exhibit will run through Dec. 31.

Have an environmental question you'd like WUWM's Susan Bence to investigate? Submit below.

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Susan Bence entered broadcasting in an untraditional way. After years of avid public radio listening, Susan returned to school and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She interned for WUWM News and worked with the Lake Effect team, before being hired full-time as a WUWM News reporter / producer.