With a passion for adventure and exploration, this photographer shows off the wild parts of the world to document the relationship between people and wildlife and the environment
By Mark Edward Harris
Outdoor Photographer: Are you a big climber?
Wald: I was never a great climber myself, but I got my start as a photographer in the mid-’80s by photographing other people climbing. Mountaineering came first, then photography. There are a lot of people out there with cameras, but you have to put a lot of work into it—looking ahead, setting ropes, getting to the right position at the right time of day; you have to forget about climbing yourself.
The first story I had published in National Geographic was on a rock-climbing expedition to Halong Bay in Vietnam. I spent a month photographing climbers scaling limestone towers that had never been climbed before.
Outdoor Photographer: You recently won a Rowell Award. Galen was not only a great photographer, but an expert climber as well. Tell us about the award.
Wald: The award is about giving back to the places where you’ve been working. It’s not limited just to photography, it’s open to all artists, but you have to be nominated. I submitted my Afghanistan work, which I thought had an element that explains something about the world, enlightens people’s perspectives and is a story that brings attention to a cause. The work in Afghanistan is some of my strongest and is most in the tradition of Galen Rowell—landscape, environment, adventure and culture.
Outdoor Photographer: How was working in Afghanistan?
Wald: I did projects there in 2002, 2004 and 2005. In 2002, I went there on a project for Smithsonian Magazine. The story focused on what’s left of the great places in Afghanistan. It was somewhat architectural—the monuments, the mosques—but also showed the diversity of culture in the country.
While I was there, I also did a story for Sierra Magazine—an overview of the environmental status in Afghanistan after years of war. That work led to a project I did in 2004 and 2005 with wildlife biologist Dr. George Schaller, one of the top conservation biologists of our time. He wanted to do a wildlife survey in the Wakhan Corridor, a tiny strip of land that sticks out in the northeast corner of Afghanistan. We put together an expedition that was funded by National Geographic. [George Schaller has worked for more than thirty years with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), another group that helped fund the expedition in the Wakhan Corridor. Visit www.wcs.org.]
Outdoor Photographer: In what type of wildlife was he interested?
Wald: Dr. Schaller wanted to learn the numbers and range of the wild Marco Polo sheep, a magnificent species he had studied in the surrounding countries—Pakistan, China and Tajikistan. The missing link in his research was Afghanistan. He has been working to help create a four-country, international Peace Park, which will protect the Marco Polo sheep and other species in the area and create opportunities for sustainable development for the local communities.
Our journey took us over two months from trailhead to trailhead as we explored on foot, on horse and yak nearly every corner of this region. There has only been a handful of scientists, travelers and mountaineers who have ever set foot in this area in the last hundred or so years.