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Giving Hope to the dawn of a new generation of youth strikers

Things changed for Bethia Hope, Cambridge resident, small business owner and passionate photographer, when she chaperoned her daughter to one of the Strike for Climate marches in the city in 2019.

Ginny, left, and Elliot. Picture: Bethia Hope
Ginny, left, and Elliot. Picture: Bethia Hope

“I felt an overwhelming admiration for all those who took part, for the children and parents, for the stewards helping to support it, and then for these young, articulate, passionate – but obviously also worried and angry – children of the eco council who led the march,” she says.

After talking to one of the children’s parents, she embarked on a series of portraits of the school strikers, “to use portraits to tell their collective story and to capture them as individuals in that moment in time”.

The sittings took place during a break in lockdown last year and have now been published on Bethia’s website, with a physical exhibition being considered. The portrait series reveals a group of very different young adults, all founder members of Cambridge Schools Eco Council, who in the last two years have put the case for addressing climate breakdown as a matter of urgency on the streets, in meetings both actual and virtual with climate specialists and politicians, and have forged a voice with the UN’s ‘Future Voices’ organisation.

An eclectic set of supporters from Billy Bragg to Dr Rowan Williams has joined them on marches, speaking out about the way future generations may be obliged to live in very different circumstances than those experienced today, and urging world leaders to commit to wholesale action to reduce CO2 emissions as a first port of call in reducing the Earth’s rising temperatures.

Avigail. Picture: Bethia Hope
Avigail. Picture: Bethia Hope

“I organised five sittings over August and September, all between 7.45-10am: 14 members had voiced wanting to take part,” says Bethia. “I obviously recce’d the location and I chose morning for the light and atmosphere. I wanted to evoke a feeling of a new dawn breaking around the young generation stepping up to fight this climate challenge.

“To represent how these children – and many children around the world – are stepping forth to clean up the mess that previous generations and adults have made. I wanted to show their courage, strength, optimism and also anger, if that was there.

“Some of the children were nervous and a little shy, but that is understandable and the awkwardness that came with that also bought out their character in the moment.

“I did encourage them to think about what they felt strongly about with regard to the environment and their council involvement. I saw a mix of emotions and feeling through the sittings.

“Some showed contempt for the governments and talked of it all being too late, there was a sadness for me witnessing that from a child. And some talked of their optimism, their deep passion for trees, animals and oceans.”

Bethia describes her photographic activities as “a self-taught evolution”.

She says: “Over the last few years I have been exploring story-telling through portraiture. I am triggered to capture by ‘real’ stories, real lives, as opposed to wanting to create an image, story or character. I like to look for and capture these stories from street photography to candid family life. I am interested in people and places and curious about connections between the two. I am inspired by culture, time and individuality.”

Bethia, like many, has been triggered by a sense of not being able to do enough to avert catastrophe.

She says: “As a working mother of three who feels very strongly about the climate crisis, I have often felt unable to do enough or to make any significant difference in my capacity as one.

Cambridge photographer Bethia Hope
Cambridge photographer Bethia Hope

“Several years ago, I collected all of my family’s unrecyclable rubbish for three months then me and my younger daughters covered our garden with it and I photographed them playing in amongst it. I wanted them to have some sort of understanding about how our choices effect the planet and what it might feel like to have your environment swamped with waste.

“I posted it on Instagram and tagged the supermarkets whose packaging I couldn’t recycle. Not one of those supermarkets responded to me. I remember taking the rubbish back to their customer services and am sure they just put it all in the bin. So, when I went to the strike, I felt connected to others that care, and inspired to make a series documenting the important fight these children and young adults were involving themselves in.”

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