Tuesday, July 1, 2008
A Photojournalist’s Eye
From the Pacific Northwest and beyond, top nature photographer Gary Braasch takes on the planet
With those three words always top of mind, photojournalist Gary Braasch embarked on a career where environmental issues and conservation have remained the heart and soul of his work for more than 25 years. From threats to coral reefs in the Philippines to the endangered wetlands in Argentina and all points in between, his powerful photographs tell a compelling story about the state of the world’s most imperiled places.
Since 1999, Braasch has focused squarely on the effects of climate change. He has circled the globe photographing receding glaciers in Greenland, rising tides along various coastlines, Chinese farmers facing famine caused by drought and the countless other effects of global warming. That work appears in his latest book, Earth Under Fire: How Global Warming Is Changing the World (see sidebar).
Beautiful nature shots marked his early work, but that changed in 1980 when Mount St. Helens erupted. He had already started exploring the scientific importance of the trees that surrounded him, but when the volcano erupted, it helped Braasch crystallize how he could marry a love of nature with his journalistic background.
“At the time I didn’t know it, but I had a talent for making a good picture, and I was reading all of these scientific reports about the trees I was photographing,” Braasch says. “With Mount St. Helens, here was natural beauty and news. That really was the turning point for me. I decided I would use my camera to illustrate natural history, science and environmental issues through pretty pictures.”
His photographs of the eruption were widely published and put him on the map as a photographer. He continued his work in the forest, but he started to take photographs that were guided by a scientific understanding of the forest.
No other forest has an entire group of tree species that equals that of the Northwest in terms of size and age. For that reason, there’s a considerable number of species that have become rare because they depend on their now-rare habitat and wouldn’t survive in a younger forest. When Braasch came on the scene in the 1980s, the toll that heavy, unrestricted logging had taken on this ecosystem was starting to draw the ire of the scientific community and environmental groups.
The removal of these trees was problematic in several ways. It altered how the forests were structured and changed the balance between animal and plant species. Since deforestation often is associated with logging, many scientists believe it’s responsible for 17 percent of annual global carbon emissions, a level higher than emissions from transportation.
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