Photographs by Andrew Snyder
Interview by David C. Lester
Andrew Synder is finishing up his Ph.D. in biology at the University of Mississippi. His dissertation is entitled “Biodiversity and Evolution in the Guyana Shield.” He is a scientist and a professional photographer, but more about his work later.
Andrew got involved with NANPA in 2013 as one of the college scholarship winners. “I consider that weekend of the NANPA conference, and spending the week with other members of my team working on a project as one of the defining moments of my photography career,” Andrew says. Their project was to document Amelia Island off the coast of Jacksonville. A number of pro photographers were with the students to give guidance and to make sure things went well. “The presentation of our group was done at the 2013 summit, and this experience set the tone for how I wanted to guide my photography work,” he adds.
Andrew says that another benefit to being involved with NANPA is that it provides a good platform for professional photographers to collaborate and connect with each other. There is also the benefit of incredible rates for gear coverage, along with ways to advertise one’s personal work. For amateur photographers, NANPA is the backbone for learning about nature photography. All of the resources available to amateurs are great – regional meetings, networking with like-minded people, and the overall environment of everyone wanting to see others succeed at their craft. ” Indeed, a lot of my connections have resulted from NANPA involvement.”
Andrew has been on the fence on whether to be a scientist or a photographer. His experiences in research and academia have been gratifying, but he has about decided to pursue a career with conservation organizations doing on the ground conservation fieldwork and photography.
Nevertheless, Andrew says that he would be doing a disservice to conservation to discontinue his scientific work, but he also enjoys photography and outreach, and these are integral parts of his plans for his career. Currently, he has interviewed with several organizations that would allow him to go on expeditions to areas that haven’t been explored before. If this doesn’t work out, he hopes to land a job with a scientific organization to practice both science and photography.
Andrew has been doing a lot of work for his dissertation in Guyana (in northern South America) over the past several years. The field work has not allowed him much sleep during this time. “Species are typically active in the morning, and active in the evening, but not very active during the day. So, during the day, I usually spent my time photographing other teams working on their projects,” he says.
For his research, Andrew collects snakes, frogs, and other creatures to study their phylogenetic and phylogeographic relationships. Both fields investigate species relationships, but at different scales. While phylogenetics looks into the relationships among closely related species, phylogeography examines genetic patterns within a single species across its distribution. The genetic material collected from these organisms also contributes to a greater, global initiative to barcode all of the known types of organisms on earth.
“Biodiversity in tropics is much greater than originally thought, and new species are being found continuously,” Andrew says. “The photography I do is making images of snakes and frogs in their natural habitat, along with taking close-up, hi-res images of certain parts of the creature to identify distinguishing features.” The overall goal, of course, is conservation. Andrew aims to show what is in a certain area, but also what is to be lost in a certain area.