By By Ted Leeming and Morag Paterson, photographic artists

BACK in the 1930s an army of labourers arrived in the remote Galloway Glens and began the immense task of creating a hydro scheme to help satisfy the country’s escalating demand for electricity.

Opponents complained that the dams, power stations and other infrastructure would blight the landscape and that fish habitats would be damaged.

Advocates argued that it was “Pennies from Heaven” – a cheap, renewable, self-sustaining source of power.

What can we learn with 80 years of hindsight?

With the world facing a climate change emergency, and ongoing debate about renewables, arts organisation Upland CIC developed an artist residency project (funded by Creative Scotland and the Galloway Glens Landscape Partnership) to explore the legacy of the Galloway hydro scheme.

This would also look at wider concerns like the role of renewables in the future.

As photographers with an established interest in these issues it was a project that resonated with us powerfully. Working alongside fellow artists Jason Nelson and Catherine Major we spent six months researching the hydro scheme, exploring community attitudes and drawing everything together for an exhibition entitled Pennies from Heaven?

This large pre-war engineering project is still powering around 79,000 homes with a single raindrop potentially being used to generate electricity five times as it flows down rivers to the sea. And while it did alter landscapes and waterways the scheme is now seen as part of the landscape and an invaluable resource, used for an abundance of leisure activities and providing a diverse wildlife habitat. Indeed the lochs and dams are generally regarded with affection by the locals.

It’s debatable whether this scheme would be built today, there would likely be huge opposition based both on ecological factors and visual impacts – similar to the arguments we see today over wind turbines and new pylon lines.

However, nothing comes for free. Part of the price is economic, social and personal change and it’s time for us to decide what sort of world we want to inhabit. Challenging new development without feasible alternatives solves nothing – it just asks for it to happen in someone else’s back yard. Out of sight, and out of mind.

Dwelling on this, we began examining consumerism and the continued growth in demand for energy, which pushed us towards some dramatic conclusions.

We took an unsentimental look at modern life, at how we fill our lives, pockets, houses, cupboards and wardrobes with more and more stuff.

We also looked at the drowned and degenerated landscapes caused by agribusiness and rising sea levels.

The science shows there are less than 12 years left before we reach a tipping point where severely harmful climate change becomes irreversible.

Our exhibition reflects this, through photography and other art forms, and asks what can be done. Will we take the necessary measures to avoid mass extinctions, maybe including our own?

One photo looks out over the wing of a jetliner to mountains far below. Images like this have often been symbols of freedom, glamour and adventure.

But the underlying reality is of carbon emissions and the destruction of the very environments we dream of escaping to.

Much of the responsibility is political and structural, but it’s personal too. After all, it was us on that aircraft. Indeed, a key part of our business has involved flying round the world to run photography courses.

So, as a result of this residency, we have decided to stop running flight based workshops from 2021.

It’s been a tough decision, but it is an emergency and action is essential.

We hope you’ll join us.

• Pennies from Heaven? is at Gracefield Arts Centre, Dumfries until June 29.