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Photojournalist Joanna Pinneo on documenting climate change and the lives of women 

click to enlarge JOANNA PINNEO
  • Joanna Pinneo
I recently caught up with my friend Joanna Pinneo, a former National Geographic photographer, who's been covering climate change and its effects on women and families for more than 20 years.

Pinneo began photographing rural populations for the International Mission Board, documenting the group helping families, teaching literacy and best practices in agriculture.

Later, Pinneo worked for National Geographic and traveled to more than 60 countries on assignment. She photographed many of the same issues she did early on but broadened the scope of her work to explore how climate change effected rural populations globally.

From the Tuareg people living in the Sahara to the Inuit in the Northwest territories of Canada, the changes in climate were dramatic.

“I photographed melting glaciers, farmers planning how they might plant their crops depending on weather changes in Brazil, butterflies in the Pyrenees moving north and changing their migration routes," she says.

Recently Pinneo completed the Ted Scripps Fellowship in Environmental Journalism at CU. During her research there, Pinneo focused her lens on what she often overlooked when she began documenting climate change — the kitchen stove.

“It wasn’t something I thought about and as I photographed, I took it as part of the scene,” she says. ”But it’s like smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. You do that every day and it gets pretty serious.”

Cooking in third world countries is typically done over open flame using fuels like wood, coal and dung. It's a serious health risk to women and children. According to the World Health Organization, over 4 million people die prematurely from illness attributable to the household air pollution from cooking with solid fuels. Cooking fires contribute to air pollution too.

On a recent trip to Tanzania, in collaboration with Ripple Effect Images and Solar Sister, a non-profit working to empower women in rural Africa, Pinneo documented women there helping each other by selling more efficient cooking stoves. The stoves cook food faster and use less fuel, dramatically reducing smoke, and toxic emissions. Working alongside CSU researchers in Honduras, Pinneo also documented the efforts to help women cook more safely and efficiently using stoves created by the Fort Collins-based nonprofit Trees, Water, People.

“The stoves designed by Trees, Water, People really work well. They are a perfect fit for that culture,” Pinneo explains.

Cooking stoves help women in rural communities not just by reducing pollutants in the kitchen, but also by giving them more time.

“Women are out collecting wood to the tune of 20 hours a week and their daughters are out of there with them. Add that time back to their lives and they can start a small business, help their husbands farm and the girls can attend more school,” Pinneo says.

One of Pinneo’s most iconic photographs is a portrait of a Tuareg family asleep in the sands of Sahara. It graced the cover of National Geographic for her story on climate change. The intimacy of this photo speaks to the connection Pinneo is able to create with her subjects.

“I’ve always been interested in women and womens' lives. How darn hard they work. As I’ve traveled I can’t speak their language but I always feel like I could connect with the women,” she says. "When I went to northern Ghana in May to photograph we had an interpreter but I probably said three words to one woman and we just laughed and hugged. I thought maybe if I lived in Ghana I would be her friend."

Check out how cooking stoves in Tanzania have improved the lives of women and their families here.

What’s Pinneo’s advice for someone looking start a career in photojournalist?

“I think it would be good for a young person to learn multimedia. They have to work their butts off and it’s a different model but it’s possible.”


Sean Cayton is a wedding photojournalist of 19 years and operates a successful, award-winning wedding photography studio in Colorado Springs. He's also an award-winning photojournalist. Sean is happily married to the love of his life (also his business partner) and is father to three beautiful children. When he’s not working, Sean can be found outside flying kites with his kids, hitting golf balls or casting a fly rod to hungry trout.

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