When we first planned this photoshoot almost nine months back, it was never meant to be political. However, with President Trump’s recent commitment to bring back coal, my fantastical concept started to feel a lot more real.

Earlier in the year, I had stumbled across a website that was bottling oxygen from the rocky mountains and re-selling it to polluted cities in China.  It was the type of thing that just rang of satire.

Yet after doing a little bit of research, I realized not only was this true, but it was becoming a scary trend. And probably for good reason – the very elementary school I attended in Beijing, now had a five million dollar gymnasium equipped with an airlock and air filters in every classroom.


Pollution Dome CNN ISB
“Anti-Pollution Dome” at the International School of Beijing via CNN

So who was to blame- Cars? Factories? Dust?

Turns out, the main culprit is coal.

In a world where there are so many alternative energy sources available, the fact that a government would subject their citizens to such a poor quality of life just blew me away. And so my quest began- to find post-apocalyptic soldiers trading, using and controlling oxygen beneath a coal mining machine.

(watch here:)

The shoot took place in Ferropolis, a mining museum located in Germany.

Ferropolis (also known as the city of Iron) is a former strip mine in Germany that was converted into a museum and event space in 1995. They were gracious enough to give us permission to do our crazy photo project there.

Volunteers from all over the country came to participate in this creative project.

Photo by Anna Tenne

Eight dedicated models brought their own post-apocalyptic outfits and props while over a dozen volunteers showed up bringing whatever lighting and clothing they had. Photography companies like Phase One, Broncolor and Three Legged Thing also provided us with some specialized camera equipment to bring this project to life.

Including a baby, giving us the chance to take photos that look like they came straight out of Mad Max. 

Shot on the Phase One IQ3, Schneider 35mm | ISO800, 35mm, f/12, 1/640 with Broncolor Move & Siros

This shot, meant to illustrate a family of “Oxygen refugees” fleeing from mercenaries, took us about six hours to create between designing a set and coordinating ten models simultaneously while juggling wind, hair, baby and smoke*.

The props were custom built out of recycled garbage with a post-apocalyptic group called the Wasteland Warriors. 

Ernie (left) and Joe (right) brainstorming on how to build our “Oxygen Harvesting machine” – Photo by Anna Tenne

I met the Wasteland Warriors online, after they randomly messaged me through Facebook a few years back to collaborate. At the time, I didn’t have any specific ideas but when I pitched them the idea of an environmental project in March, it was game on.

Which included an “oxygen harvester” made out of a fishbowl and a teapot that became the centrepiece of one of our shots.

Shot on the Phase One IQ3, Schneider 35mm | | ISO100, 35mm, f/6.3, 1/200 with Broncolor Move & Siros

Over the years, the Wasteland Warriors had accumulated and designed a surprisingly large amount of epic clothing and props. All that we had to do was spend a little bit of time custom designing a few critical props like the oxygen tanks and tubes.

Oxygen for now, remains a commodity free for all.

Photo by Anna Tenne

It turns out, that the craziest photoshoots can be done simply by meeting people significantly more talented than you and putting in a little bit of time converting the ordinary into something extraordinary – like transforming broken Scuba tanks into post-apocalyptic containers… or taking a lovely family of American expats and transforming them into oxygen refugees.

and… I hope it stays that way.

Shot on the Phase One IQ3, Schneider 35mm | ISO400, 35mm, f/8, 1/400 with Broncolor Move & Siros

To be fair, I don’t expect our country to ever become this polluted. That would be an unrealistic and improbable projection even if President Trump completes his promise to save jobs and bring back “clean coal.”

Yet despite that,  coal still presents some very real risks if we ignore what science tells us and turn our backs on developing sustainable, renewable energy.

I think we can all agree that coal is a finite resource that will only carry us so far. Shouldn’t we focus on the future and not dig up the past?

Media Requests

  • Feel free to quote and publish the photos on your online publication (please credit & link back to the original post). High-rez press images, BTS and more can be found in this dropbox link.
  • Part 1 and Part 2 BTS videos with more information on the project can be found on my youtube channel.
  • Commercial requests and rights: suzy@suzyjohnston.com
  • Interview requests: ben@vonwong.com

Thoughts and rambling

2 things you can do today to make a difference.



  • Photography: Von Wong
  • Video: Adam Frimer, Anna Tenne, Marcus
  • Wasteland Warriors: Ernst Neuvieme, Joe Neuvième, Elisabeth Kringe, Dmitri Zaitsev, Franziska Pohl, Caddü Toast, Ronald Kellner, Claudio Oliverio
  • Volunteer Models: Khira Rakhi, Eva Creel, Michael Creel, Dylan Creel, Tobias M Schneider
  • Assistants: Geena M. Grim, Stephan Schmick, Jan C. Zimara, Janine Krüger, Christian Wagner, Manuel Olze, Colin Liepmann, Stephan Schmidt, Tobias M Schneider

Special thanks to Broncolor, Phase One along with Jan C. Zimara and Stephan Schmidt for providing me with extra photography equipment for this shoot.


* Coming to the decision to use smoke bombs for an environmental project wasn’t an easy one. The hypocrisy of adding pollution to the planet just to make a point is something that I struggled with, yet from experience, I know that people respond best to images that are anchored in reality, especially when you’re trying to make a statement on reality. Therefore, the best I could do was to counterbalance the pollution I put into the air was to pay a carbon tax to remove 50 Tonnes of CO2  from the planet. Hopefully people will understand that as an artist, I’m just trying to spread the word in a unique impactful way, hoping that within my lifetime I can do more good than harm.