WILDSpeak 2016: Michele Westmorland

Traditional method of fishing in the shallow waters.  After being trapped in an area surrounded by nets, the men snorkel to spear the fish.  "Sweetlips" are a favorite of the village communities of the Tufi area, Oro Province, Papua New Guinea
Traditional method of fishing in the shallow waters. After being trapped in an area surrounded by nets, the men snorkel to spear the fish. "Sweetlips" are a favorite of the village communities of the Tufi area, Oro Province, Papua New Guinea

Each year, numerous presenters gather to explore how photography and video are impacting conservation efforts around the globe at The International League Of Conservation Photographers’ symposium, WILDspeak. This year’s event will be held November 15 and 16, 2016, in Washington D.C., where Michele Westmorland will discuss Ethics in Conservation Photography.

Michele Westmorland

Michele Westmorland is a freelance photographer, professional diver and worldwide traveler. All of these experiences have shaped the story she sets out to tell with her photography and her involvement in marine conservation issues. As she often states in her lecture series, “I have had the privilege of photographing marine life since 1984. Each dive gave me new and dramatic experiences. From the tiny creatures that hide in the coral to magnificent marine mammals that give our world balance, it is an environment where new discoveries are made every day. I believe in the power of imagery to motivate stewardship and protection of the fragile underwater world. It is equally important to connect with the indigenous peoples of the world—man is, in fact, a part of nature.”

Hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) is a critically endangered species belonging to the family Cheloniidae.  It is the only extant species in the genus Eretmochelys.  The Father's Area of West New Britain, Papua New Guinea.
Hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) is a critically endangered species belonging to the family Cheloniidae. It is the only extant species in the genus Eretmochelys. The Father's Area of West New Britain, Papua New Guinea.

Through her business, Westmorland Images, Michele provides imagery for marketing campaigns for adventure companies, properties and yachts. “I take pride in being able to photograph around the world for both commercial and editorial images,” Westmorland explains. “Although they sound conflicting, I have gained appreciation and knowledge on telling a visual story utilizing technical skills to adapt in use for nature and people. I started 30 years ago specializing only in marine life. I’m still spending much of my time in scuba gear, but I’ve also learned to notice and care for what goes on above the surface.”

This new focus has given Westmorland a deeper understanding of how the conditions of the ocean affect communities that depend on it as a food source, specifically Papua New Guinea and the neighboring island nations that make up the territory known as Melanesia. She explains that the reef system around Papua New Guinea is currently in a healthy state, but is at risk due to pollution caused by deforestation of the rainforests and mining operations.

Melanesian man in outrigger canoe.  New Guinea Eastern Division of Papua  Phoebe Hearst Museum of Anthropology Accession 3220 Cat #17-595  Painting by Caroline Mytinger circa 1928
Melanesian man in outrigger canoe. Painting by Caroline Mytinger circa 1928

This understanding also drove Westmorland to create a documentary to celebrate the culture of Melanesia. The film, Headhunt Revisited: With Brush, Canvas and Camera is currently in postproduction and focuses on artist Caroline Mytinger who traveled to Melanesia with her companion, Margaret Warner, in the 1920s. “Caroline returned with stunning portraits that are not only beautiful but are important ethnographic records of the diversity and dignity of people,” says Westmorland. “Many people in Western society have little knowledge of Melanesia and through this film, I hope to garner their interest and that they begin to care about the sensitive environment. Art, whether created on canvas, photography or film, can connect people across oceans—and decades.”

Healthy cabbage coral (Turbinaria reniformis) formation surrounded by basslets, damsels and other tropical reef fish. other variety of corals and sponges. Tufi, Papua New Guinea
Healthy cabbage coral (Turbinaria reniformis) formation surrounded by basslets, damsels and other tropical reef fish. Tufi, Papua New Guinea

Westmorland will be a part of a panel discussion at WILDSpeak discussing the ethics of photographing indigenous people and how to engage—not just capture a photo. “Respect is of the utmost importance and to give small communities a voice,” she says.

To learn more about Michele Westmoreland and her documentary, visit www.westmorlandimages.com and www.headhuntrevisited.org.

WiLDspeak—A Symposium on Photography, Conservation & Communications
November 15 & 16, 2016
Carnegie Institution for Science
1530 P Street, NW Washington D.C. 20005
conservationphotographers.org/wildspeak2016

Leave a Reply

Main Menu