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Hard choices: reinventing the modern world so that it is compatible with nature

Volume 5 Number 1 - April 2008

Sarah Kneebone

French title: Des choix difficiles – réinventer le monde moderne pour qu’il soit compatible avec la nature.

Spanish title: Elecciones difíciles – reinventando el mundo moderno para que sea compatible con la naturaleza


An unusual partnership, between the Still Pictures worldwide picture library network and botanic gardens, has produced a global renaissance for Bob Dylan’s haunting lyrics over the past couple of years. Dylan’s poetry has formed the inspiration for ‘Hard Rain: Our Headlong Collision with Nature’ an outdoor exhibition, slide show, talk and photo reportage book illustrating the world’s major environmental and social issues. Millions of visitors have now viewed the lyrics, each line interpreted by a dramatic, beautiful or shocking photograph. The creator of the exhibition, and founder of Still Pictures, Mark Edwards, has been thrilled with the response the exhibition has had from botanic gardens saying, “botanic gardens are ideal sites for the exhibition, as conservation organisations and pieces of nature in predominantly urban landscapes, they illustrate the essence of the exhibition”.

“I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin', I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin', I saw a white ladder all covered with water, I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken, I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children, And it's a hard, and it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, And it's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.”

An extract from the lyrics of ‘A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall’, by Bob Dylan. (Copyright Bob Dylan, Special Rider Music/Sony/ATV Music Publishing 1963, 1991)

Hard Rain – eliciting a response

Initially launched at the Eden Project, UK, in 2006, the Hard Rain exhibition has since been displayed in Helsinki University Botanic Garden, Finland; Royal Botanic Garden, Madrid, Spain; Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Scotland; Vilnius University Botanic Garden, Lithuania; Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens, Australia and; Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, South Africa, among others.

The provocative display has elicited strong responses from visitors and garden staff alike; the images seem to strike a common chord, stimulating a range of emotions from empathy to shock and outrage in viewers. Ana Casino, Director of Atlantic Botanic Garden, Gijón, Spain, was delighted with the media and visitor attention the exhibition received,

It has been a pleasure for us to host the exhibition. We have had such a huge and grateful response from our city citizens and visitors that we have delayed its removal as much as we could! We have had hundreds of visitors coming to see the pictures …..we also gave the visitors the opportunity to express their feeling and emotions resulting from the exhibition. They could write and hang their opinions up for others to see, or send them to us via our website ….as you can imagine, this has been one of our biggest and most successful items in our latest calendar of activities”.

Dr Gert Ausloos, Head of Education at the National Botanic Garden of Belgium was similarly pleased,

“In October and November (2007), more than 17,000 people visited the Garden and saw the exhibition. During the Belgian week of Sustainable Development the Garden organised staff activities where staff were asked to pick one picture that they found particularly striking, read the comment and reflect on their own work behaviour in the Garden. We encouraged them to link everyday actions like closing doors between glasshouses and including provoking images of the 'Hard Rain' exhibitionin their e-mail correspondence.

Finding solutions

A second edition of Hard Rain was published in November 2007, to include four essays written by key figures in the environmental and political movement and over 50 new photographs by Mark. The book was sent to every prime minister and president in the world with a request that they suggest existing ‘living solutions’ from their country that could be adopted more widely as ways to combat the problems of climate change, poverty, population, habitat loss, species extinction and pollution, illustrated by Hard Rain. Their answers will now form the basis of another exhibition, ‘Remaking a World Gone Wrong’. This exhibition is intended to encourage people around the world to participate in bringing about a sustainable future and thus help provide governments with a constituency to produce policies that give companies the sort of predictability they need to invest in ever-cleaner technologies.” explains Mark, he continues “The exhibition’s main message is that we need to reinvent the modern world so it is compatible with nature. We urgently need to switch to renewable energy, new transport and production techniques and to create sustainable cities and rural communities if we are to meet the challenges illustrated in Hard Rain”.

Remaking a World Gone Wrong

Partnered by UNEP and Still Pictures, ‘Remaking a World Gone Wrong’ will be announced at the UN Headquarters in May 2008. The Hard Rain team is hoping to launch the exhibition itself, with the complementary book and website, in 100 sites worldwide in 2010. It is envisaged that ‘Remaking a World Gone Wrong’ will be in two parts:

1) Living Earth

Part one will include pictures by the world’s leading nature and reportage photographers to show how a great variety of natural systems interact to maintain stable conditions for life in all its forms. Since the industrial revolution, unsustainable technologies and an unprecedented increase in human population have damaged nature’s ability to renew itself and sustain life. ‘Living Earth’ will feature a specially commissioned photo essay illustrating the conservation work undertaken by botanic gardens and zoos and introduce the concept of ecosystem services, demonstrating our dependence on natural systems. It ends by showing that the interaction between humankind and nature has a deeper, life-enhancing significance that lies at the heart of our environmental concern.

2) Living Solutions

Part two will illustrate ‘Living Solutions’ from around the world that need to be urgently and dramatically scaled up in order to ‘futureproof’ humanity and nature. These examples

of sustainable practice recommended by presidents and prime ministers, mayors and

business leaders will be presented so that visitors can adopt and campaign for solutions they would like to benefit from in their country or community. A key section deals with climate change and shows how deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions urgently recommended by the IPCC can be made with existing technologies. It focuses on the post-carbon lifestyle future generations will be living if we are to avoid a climate cataclysm. Included here are the renewable energy technologies, clean transport systems and production techniques that will replace the heavily polluting systems which mankind has relied on to date.

Mark feels that the use of photographs is a vital part of the exhibition’s success “The beauty of photography is that it allows you to bring the intellect and feelings together. There is no obstacle to people looking at photos which might be the case with paintings”. He adds that they hope to inspire action with Remaking a World Gone Wrong’ by capitalising on the strong emotions ‘Hard Rain’ has provoked in visitors, “Unless exhibitions affect people emotionally they will be forgotten. People will not change unless their heart and mind is involved. We need the excitement, the draw and impetus that this exhibition brings to encourage people to be part of the change. Remaking a World Gone Wrong will have a huge impact”.


Un partenariat inhabituel entre Still Pictures, réseau mondial de banques d’images, et les jardins botaniques a engendré depuis ces deux dernières années une renaissance mondiale pour les paroles des chansons de Bob Dylan qui trottent dans nos têtes. La poésie de Dylan a servi d’inspiration pour « Hard Rain: Our Headlong Collision with Nature », une exposition de plein air avec montages diapositives, discussions, livres de photo-reportages, illustrant quelques-uns des principaux problèmes environnementaux et sociologiques mondiaux. Des milliers de visiteurs ont déjà vu les paroles des chansons, chaque ligne étant illustrée d’une photographie dramatique, belle ou choquante. Mark Edwards, le créateur de l’exposition et le fondateur de Still Pictures, a été ravi des réactions suscitées par cette exposition dans les jardins botaniques. « Les jardins botaniques sont des lieux idéaux pour l’exposition. En tant qu’organismes de conservation et parcelles de nature dans des paysages principalement urbains, ils illustrent l’essence de l’exposition ».


Una asociación entre la principal libreria de fotografías a nivel mundial Still Pictures y los Jardines Botánicos, ha producido un renacimiento global para la lírica de Bob Dylan’s durante los ultimos años. La poesia de Dylan ha sido la inspiración para ‘Hard Rain: Our Headlong Collision with Nature’, una exhibición al exterior, proyección de diapositivas, plática y libro de fotorreportaje, que ilustra algunos de los mayores temas ambientales y sociológicos. Miles de visitantes han visto hasta ahora las poesias, cada línea interpretada por una fotografia dramática, hermosa e impactante. El creador de la exhibición y fundador de Still Pictures, Mark Edwards, esta impresionado con la respuesta que la exhibición ha tenido desde los jardines botánicos. “Los jardines botánicos son sitios ideales para la exhibición, como organizaciones de la conservación y piezas de la naturaleza en paisajes predominantemente urbanos, ellos ilustran la esencia de la exhibición”.

Sarah Kneebone
Education and Interpretation Expert
Oman Botanic Garden
Diwan of Royal Court
Office of the Advisor for Conservation of the Environment
P.O. Box 246
Muscat 100
Sultanate of Oman

The Hard Rain Project is looking for more sites to host the ‘Hard Rain’ exhibition and the upcoming ‘Remaking a World Gone Wrong’. If you are interested please contact:


Mark Edwards Still Pictures Ltd. 199 Shooters Hill Road, London SE3 8UL, UK Tel: +44 (0) 20 8858 8307 Email: 
Hard Rain website: