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UW Students to Create Photo Documentary of 2004 Indonesia Tsunami


April 1, 2011 — Photographs are one of the most significant ways for the public to see and understand the impact of a natural disaster.

Chris Michael, a student in the Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) program at the University of Wyoming, and Becca Skinner, a student of social work in the UW College of Health Sciences, are working on a photojournalism project documenting the devastation after the 2004 tsunami that hit the island chain of Indonesia.

Their project will include pictures taken just after the disaster by contributing National Geographic photographer James Balog plus photos from the students that show the recovery, seven years later, of one coastal community.

The College of Arts and Sciences awarded Michael and Skinner $3,000 to travel to Banda Aceh, Indonesia, to photograph the coastal region.

"The project Chris has developed is a great example of the creative and interdisciplinary synergies ENR students conceive. Chris is a thoughtful, engaged student of our program, and I'm excited to see the results of his work," says Jill Lovato, assistant director of the Ruckelshaus Institute. She also served as mentor for Michael's project.

Says Michael, "Our hope is that with Balog's photographs and the ones we take seven years later, we can show and perhaps even measure the impacts of the tsunami on the Aceh community."

Michael and Skinner developed the idea for the photojournalism project after meeting Balog at a National Geographic Young Explorers Grant workshop in Colorado last year. They all agreed that photographs of the aftermath of the tsunami could make an important impression on the public.

"The idea for this project is to take eight to 10 photos at the same spots and then compare the photographs," Michael says.  The comparisons will help illustrate the actual changes in the cultural and physical geography along the island coasts of Indonesia.

"These photographs will serve as a reminder to the world's conscience that our concern for those affected by a disaster should not dwindle as media coverage fades," he adds.

The original photographs taken by Balog were in the Aceh Province on the island of Sumatra. Michael plans to travel to Aceh to photograph what this coastal region and community look like today, seven years after the tsunami. Aceh is an area where the western coast was the most devastated because it was closest to the epicenter of the earthquake in the ocean.

"There is no question that the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan has increased the significance of this project," Michael says. "And that is what this project is about -- raising awareness about how communities can take precautions and what it takes to rebound after such a devastating natural disaster."

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