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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Appalachian Ridge Runner

In the quest to do more than just take pretty pictures, Jerry Greer is using his images to promote conservation in the region of the country he loves the most

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Late summer beech gap with whorled wood aster, Highlands of Roan, Cherokee and Pisgah National Forests, Tennessee and North Carolina. Canon EOS 5D Mark II, Canon TS-E 24mm ƒ/3.5L II
Greer is proud of his part in protecting another piece of our nation's vanishing natural heritage. "I want to look back one day and actually be able to pinpoint on a map the wild lands that I helped to protect," he says. "It's such a wonderful feeling to know I was able to assist in protecting 10,000 acres of beautiful and undeveloped mountain land that otherwise would have become an exclusive gated community with no access to the public."

Greer continues to use his photography not only to promote conservation of these landscapes, but to expose the destructive practices by various industries. He journey-ed to Kingston, Tennessee, in 2008 to document the coal fly ash slurry disaster that dumped 1.1 billion gallons of contaminants into the environment.

"I spent two days photographing all aspects of the disaster," recalls Greer. "The area became a hotbed of harassment to anyone with a camera. It was almost impossible to gain access to the spill site. I did return home with some very convincing photos about this tragedy, but my trip was cut short due to the 'Gestapo'-type tactics from the TVA and county police."

Today, Greer is working on assignment for the National Parks Conservation Association to document the ridgelines of the Cumberland Mountains, which are threatened by mountaintop removal. Soon, he'll begin another project to document an area under consideration for inclusion in the Cherokee National Forest Wilderness System.

While he has photographed around the country, the eastern mountain ecosystems of the Southeast and mid-Atlantic states remain his primary focus. "I feel that the Blue Ridge and the southern Appalachians, which are among the oldest mountains in the world, haven't been given their due respect," says Greer. "This is especially true when compared to the western mountains, like the Rockies, Cascades and Sierra Nevada Range."

For The Blue Ridge: Ancient and Majestic book, Greer spent six years combing as much of the Blue Ridge Mountains as he could. Partnering with writer Charles Maynard, Greer was determined to produce a body of work that reveals this landscape in a new way.

"I wanted to give the Blue Ridge region the best I could offer," he says.

Greer used both DSLRs and 4x5 transparencies for the book, and whereas his images portray the region's natural wonders, Maynard's eloquent prose celebrates its cultural identity and natural history. The result of their collaboration is a tribute to the timeless beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Their efforts haven't gone unnoticed. This year, the book received the Phillip D. Reed Memorial Award for Outstanding Writing on the Southern Environment from the Southern Environmental Law Center.

When photographing, Greer's mind-set and goals are determined entirely by what project he's doing at the time.


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