Photographer Immortalizes Greta Thunberg in Powerful Wet Plate Portraits

Portrait of Greta Thunberg by Wet Plate Photographer Shane Balkowitsch

Climate change activist Greta Thunberg is just 16 years old, but has already captured the attention of the world—and a nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize. With her aim to spotlight environmental crisis, it's no surprise that she decided to pay a visit to Standing Rock, where indigenous groups are fighting the Dakota Access oil pipeline. It was here that she also met with Shane Balkowitsch, a wet plate photographer who has been taking powerful portraits of Northern Plains Native Americans. The sacred grounds at Standing Rock provided the perfect backdrop for Balkowitsch to immortalize the teen activist.

It was a brief encounter, with Balkowitsch given just 20 minutes at the conclusion of a special ceremony to take the portraits. Thunberg had just been honored with the Lakota Native American name Maphiyata echiyatan his win which translates as “woman who came from the heavens”—given to her by tribal leaders to acknowledge her important work. For the photographer, who has four children of his own and is quite concerned about the state of the planet, the moment was unforgettable.

“Up to the moment that we met I really could not get my arms around how this child was able to grab the attention of the world in such a short amount of time,” Balkowitsch tells My Modern Met. “After meeting her and spending a little personal time with her, I now understand. There is a presence and a maturity about her that is very hard to explain. She is very soft-spoken but she seems to be present in every single moment. There is an intent in her being that is not seen every day.”

Balkowitsch had been told that there would only be time for one portrait, but after seeing the beautiful first exposure, everyone immediately agreed to a second photograph. After positioning her in an open field, he took what is now called Standing For Us All. It's an evocative portrait that captures the strength of Thunberg's character and the wisdom beyond her years that she displays as she tirelessly works to invoke change.

Wet plate photographer Shane Balkowitsch recently had a portrait session with Greta Thunberg.

Portrait of Greta Thunberg by Wet Plate Photographer Shane Balkowitsch

Take a look behind the scenes of his photo session with the climate activist at Standing Rock.

Greta Thunberg and Shane Balkowitsch Portrait Session

Greta Thunberg and Shane Balkowitsch Portrait Session

Greta Thunberg and Shane Balkowitsch Portrait Session

Greta Thunberg and Shane Balkowitsch Portrait Session

Shane Balkowitsch: Website | Facebook | Instagram

My Modern Met granted permission to feature photos by Shane Balkowitsch.

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Portraits of People Whose Traditional Māori Tattoos Disappear in Wet Plate Photos

Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Staff Editor and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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