A Tale of Two Pictures

Several years ago, I was assigned to take pictures of the Siskiyou Mountains of Oregon by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). I took plenty of “beauty” shots of course – the kind that help promote conservation by showing people what is truly at stake. But I also took shots of environmental issues, including this one – showing how road culverts tend to dig out their downstream side, making it impossible for salmon to migrate upstream. This is a little-known but major barrier for salmon, and I was happy to be able to document it. (I have to laugh, however, when I see how much I tried to “pretty it up” with slow-motion water, and lush surroundings.)

The next picture, by contrast, was impossible to “pretty up.”  After the devastating “Biscuit Fire” in the Siskiyous in 2002, the Forest Service began logging a wilderness area under the pretense of salvaging “useless” lumber. Journalists and photographers were not allowed in to document this, so with WWF’s help, I chartered a plane and flew over the site. This picture helped show that the USFS was logging illegally, and played a key role in shutting the operation down.For that reason, it will always be one of my favorites, despite the fact that it is neither dramatic or beautifully composed.  To me, it’s value is that it genuinely made a difference… To my knowledge, my pictures have never directly saved a species, nor created a national park – but this one did something good. It should serve as a lesson to us all that our skills and commitment as photographers can have a very real impact. Never underestimate what a camera can do – put yours to work on an issue that concerns you.