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

3 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.


  • Out of all your awesome, custom-made props, I bet recreating “the Donald”‘s hair was the hardest… 😛 XD

  • Wendy Wareham

    Your care and attention to detail, including the cabon tax, shows your sincerity. Excellent piece of work, as usual, Ben.

  • Des Langford

    Beautiful but scary work delivering a hard message with finesse and intelligence. I am in awe of your dedication, energy, and creativity. Kudos.

  • Hazella Maria

    The concept is on point. And this is a powerful imagery that I don’t want to become real in the future. I hope this scares a lot of people for them to think about pollution and global warming.

    I would really like to volunteer and participate if you plan to shoot in Manila anytime…I think it would be a great experience! 🙂

  • Zullu

    in the words of the grand leader … sad! 🙁

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  • Allison B.

    Amazing! Really powerful images, especially adding a baby into the mix to show that this affects families. Brings it all to whole new level. Also appreciate the footnote/ carbon tax. You just get better and better!

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  • Awesome and a very good subject to highlight, I live in a town now and in winter the smell of coal fires is very noticable, its getting slowly phased out we are lucky in Southland the wind blows the smoke away quickly

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  • Doug Walkey

    Brilliant photography, bad message. People don’t understand the amount of energy we need to live, and eat. This doesn’t target the real polluters. And a carbon tax ensures that production moves to the dirtiest manufacturers in the world. Better to invest in new technology and fix problems than to create new ones.

    • Rudi Halbright

      Doug, I must disagree. A carbon tax simply adds the cost of climate remediation to the means of energy production. Without a carbon tax, people are free to pollute our air and water without having to pay for the future need to clean that up and thus the cost will be born by each of us and the economy at large. With a carbon tax in place, these external costs can be properly accounted for and thus other means of energy production, such as that of renewables, can be valued for the additional costs it doesn’t create — and to be fair, the costs it does create through manufacturing of solar panels, wind turbines and the like and the carbon cost of shipping them to the point of use. It’s only by capturing all of these costs that we can truly evaluate our options.

      Coal is an extreme example as it isn’t cost effective to mine compared to the costs of much cleaner, though still dirty, natural gas. The only way to economically mine coal is through government subsidies and that’s not even accounting for the environmental costs.

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  • 真是时光荏苒!

  • 感觉不错哦,认真拜读咯!

  • Abdul Hunaif

    karya yang luar biasa

  • 从百度进来的,博客不错哦!

  • 对你爱爱爱不完,我可以天天月月年年看你博客到永远!

    • thank you ! glad you like my work 🙂

  • 很荣幸来访您的博客,留言只是证明我来过!

  • 支持,只有支持才是访问博客的正确方式!

  • 世事无常,但这个博客定能永保辉煌!

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  • 时间飞快,转眼年中就要到来,祝你天天愉快!

  • Cody Schultz

    love all of your work and was very excited to see how this turned out after watching your bts through Snapchat – truly hope to meet you one day and work with you 🙂

  • jimmyjam5877

    These images are so well done, but are also some of most scary images I’ve seen, because they are not far from what feels like a potential future state of the U.S. Apocalyptic literature delivers a similar message, but this series of Von Wong tells the story in a striking, cinematic manner. Both beautiful and grotesque, much like a Flannery O’Connor story.

  • Brock Lowstetter

    Interesting work!