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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Environmental Conservation

The world needs more nature photographers with environmental and natural history backgrounds

Labels: How-ToOn LandscapeColumn

Morning Mist over Yosemite Valley, shot with a Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III, EF 70-200mm ƒ/2.8L USM, 1⁄10 sec. at ƒ/16, ISO 100

I'm a photographer and an environmentalist. The passion for each developed within me when I was in college at the University of Colorado in the 1970s. I was browsing the CU catalog and found courses such as Dynamics of Mountain Ecosystems, Environmental Physics, Politics of Natural Resources and Plant Ecology! When finding that I could take these courses while receiving an Environmental Conservation degree, I quickly switched out of my pursuit of a Political Science degree.

Soon after graduation, I moved to Yosemite for a job with the National Park Service. Since that time way back in 1977, I've been exploring the park. As my Yosemite portfolio developed, I dreamed of publishing a book of my photographs, a dream that came true in 1994 with Yosemite: The Promise of Wildness, coauthored with environmental writer Tim Palmer. Besides featuring my images, Tim delivers an impassioned plea for preserving Yosemite as a natural treasure and protecting the park from development and overuse. The book was greatly satisfying since it combines to show my artistic efforts to capture the essence of Yosemite, with thought-provoking text regarding the conservation issues the parks faced then, and still face today.

The reason I mention this personal history is that I want to encourage younger readers with ambitions of becoming nature photographers. The world needs more photographers with strong environmental and natural history backgrounds. Although I never held an environment-related job, my education has greatly enriched my understanding of nature. I wish I could say otherwise; I'm not much of an activist, preferring a somewhat reclusive life here in the Sierra Nevada foothills near Yosemite. Still, I feel that my education informs the impact of my images and that my art has had an impact of people's appreciation of, and desire to protect, the natural world.

I also want to tell a story about a friend and fellow photographer. Fifteen years ago, I received a letter from John Weller, who wanted to work for and learn from me. He had recently graduated with a degree in Environmental Economics from Stanford and taken a job in the field, but felt unsatisfied. Although I couldn't pay him much, and he was excessively overqualified for the job, we met and I hired him. We worked together successfully for two years and became fast friends in the process.

John returned to his hometown of Boulder, Colorado, and soon launched an extensive exploration of Great Sand Dunes National Park, culminating in a masterful book of writing and photography, Great Sand Dunes National Park: Between Light and Shadow.

Impassioned by his experiences on the dunes and armed with a new understanding about the necessity of conservation, John was primed to embark on what would turn out to be a decade-long project in defense of one of the last great places on earth. His journey to the Ross Sea in Antarctica started in 2004 when he read an obscure scientific paper, which presented evidence of a truly shocking state of affairs. It asserts that the Ross Sea was likely the last remaining large intact marine ecosystem on Earth. It also presents evidence that a new fishery in the Ross Sea is threatening to destabilize this last intact place. John called the scientist who had written the paper, and together they started The Last Ocean Project, intended to promote conservation of the Ross Sea.


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