A Photographic Call to Action NYTimes.comby Chloe, Posted May 18th, 2012 Tweet
Original article can be viewed here.
By Rachel Nuwer
When Clyde Butcher first began exploring the Everglades in 1984, “there was virtually nothing to photograph — it was one big ditch,” he says. A century of destructive intrusions like artificial canals, levees, pumps and spillways had left the swamps in a fragile and broken state.
But Mr. Butcher, a conservation photographer who lives in Big Cypress National Preserve in South Florida, felt that all was not lost.
When birds and fish began to disappear, he drew on his photographs — black-and-white large-format shots depicting the mystery and beauty of the environment — to issue a call to action.
The idea was that his photography could rally others to work together “to save nature’s places of spiritual sanctuary for future generations,” as he says in his artist’s statement. Restoration efforts in the Everglades began in the 1980s and continue today.
Mr. Butcher is not alone: the International League of Conservation Photographers, founded in 2005, has 102 members around the world addressing issues from poaching to global warming through their work.
Many of them are photojournalists, and on Thursday evening, some were on hand for a conservation photography forum at the annual conference of the Society of Environmental Journalists in Miami. Among them was Connie Bransilver, a nature photographer and charter member of the group.
Ms. Bransilver, a native Floridian, discussed her work in Africa, particularly an image titled “Madagascar Burning.” Through a haze of smoke, the viewer sees the stark outline of two human figures among jagged stumps of felled trees. Discernible in the background is a blue swell of jungle, still intact.
To Ms. Bransilver, this sums up Madagascar’s past, present and future. In past years, 80 percent or more of the country’s native forests were destroyed, predominantly by independent slash-and-burn agriculture. Yet Madagascar is now making strides in educating people about more sustainable living and seeking out locals to work as ecological guides.
Although it is hard to make out, the woman in the photo has a baby strapped to her back. “The baby herself is the future,” Ms. Bransilver said, and the forest backdrop represents the potential for the eventual regeneration of Madagascar’s natural resources.
Another Florida photographer in attendance was Carlton Ward Jr., who focuses on local issues like protecting panthers through a wildlife corridor initiative and preserving the culture of Everglades cowboys.
“A collective sense of place is needed for conservation,” Mr. Ward said. His photographs tell the story of the land, the water and the people, he said — “glimpses of the Florida I want more people to know about.” The way he tells it, “there’s a lifetime’s worth of stories’’ within 50 miles of his home in South Florida.
Photographs, of course, can elicit visceral responses in ways that words may not: think of an oily sea bird or a felled rainforest.
Although “people are very much connected to these issues,” Mr. Ward said, sometimes “they don’t perceive it” until a photograph drives the issue home.
Ms. Bransilver takes a similar view. “My motivation is to change behavior and perceptions,” she said of her photography. “I’m old enough to know that it is possible.”
In “Madagascar Burning,” Connie Bransilver contemplates the Indian Ocean country’s slash-and-burn past, its present and its future.
An image from Carlton Ward’s “Florida Cowboys” series.