The New Generation of Conservation

Part two in the series of Conservation and Photography

by Colleen Smith

Renewed emphasis on photography-for-conservation arose at the beginning of the 21st century, primarily in response to human-caused environmental crisis. Photographers recognized that the global pattern of ecosystem degradation was not sustainable.  Modern equipment, attainable travel, the media, and now social media have all helped to bring this new discipline to the forefront of public awareness.

The modern field of conservation photography was formalized in October 2005 with the founding of the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP) during the 8th World Wilderness Congress held in Anchorage Alaska.  This new group was established with the basic goal of enlisting the skills and expertise of some of the world’s best photographers to help advance conservation efforts around the globe. Working with scientists, policy makers, governmental leaders, and conservation groups, the iLCP translates conservation science into captivating visual messages. Years of field experience, talent, and a commitment to conserve landscapes, people and wildlife is what sets the photographers of the iLCP apart. The work of conservation photographers covers a vast range of threats to biodiversity. From habitat loss to cultural erosion, from poaching to global warming, conservation photography is indeed a very important component in the conservation toolbox.

“The typical nature photograph shows a butterfly on a pretty flower. The conservation photograph shows the same thing, but with a bulldozer coming at it in the background. This doesn’t mean there’s no room for beautiful pictures, in fact we need beautiful images just as much as the issues. It does mean that the images exist for a reason; to save the Earth while we still can” – acclaimed photographer Joel Sartore, founding Fellow of iLCP

Photography in the Field

Part three in the series of Conservation and Photography

by Colleen Smith

Conservation photographers work with a myriad of groups, from scientists to environmentalists, religious figures to heads of state, all with the common goal of education and awareness. To maximize their effect, conservation photographs are best employed for specific causes. Proper use of these images have the power to bring about positive change.

Jeanette, an Environmental Assessment Coordinator for the Federal Government tells us how important photographs and videos are in increasing awareness to the general public. “Seeing amazing photos of animals or landscapes that people (especially in the city) don’t see every day can really evoke a sense of wonder and a sense that wilderness or wildlife is something valuable to be protected.” But conservation photography doesn’t just deliver the message to the general public, it is also a very useful instrument used by researchers. Photographs of seabird colonies can be used for counting and estimating populations, photographs of banded birds (shot with 600mm super telephoto lenses) allow researchers to read the band numbers from the photo – something that wouldn’t be visible with a set of binoculars. The same is said for videography. For example, video is used to monitor tagged fish that move through a salmon ladder, or video used to track animal movements at a particular location i.e. animal use at eco-passages over highways. Photography and video has never played a more important role in protecting our environment.

 

Conservation Photography – A Brief History

Part one in the series of Photography and Conservation.

by Colleen Smith

Conservation and photography appear as two distinct fields, but their combined impact can be profound. Photography has developed as a powerful medium of conservation, since the 1860’s when Carleton Watkins used his persuasive images to successfully encourage the creation of the Yosemite Grant in 1864 – the first instance of park land being set aside for preservation and public use. This in turn led to the creation of Yosemite National Park in 1890.  Armed with a mammoth plate camera that used 18”x22” glass plate negatives, and a stereoscopic camera he traveled to Yosemite and established himself as a master of landscape photography. The 30 mammoth plate and 100 stereoscopic negatives helped influence the US Congress to pass the legislation protecting the Yosemite Valley. Other photographers of the time had similar success in environmental conservation; William Henry Jackson was pivotal as a member of the Hayden Geological Survey of 1871, which led to the creation of Yellowstone National Park. Ansel Adams, best know for the Zone System, was primarily known as an environmentalist first, and a photographer second. Taught to live a life guided by a social responsibility to man and nature, he received his first camera in 1916 (a Kodak Brownie) while visiting Yosemite. He spent that winter learning darkroom techniques, and then returned to Yosemite a year later with a better camera and a tripod. At the age of 17 he joined the Sierra Club – a group dedicated to preserving the natural world’s wonders and resources – and was a life long member, serving on the board of directors for 37 years. “I believe in beauty. I believe in stones in the water, air and soil, people and their future and their fate.” He decided that the purpose of his art, whether photography or music, was to reveal that beauty to others and to inspire them to the same calling.

Upper Falls of the Yellowstone, 115 feet. Photographed by William Henry Jackson.

Yosemite Falls, from the Sentinel Dome, Yosemite Valley, Mariposa Co. Photographed by Carleton Watkins