From the President: Photography with a Purpose

Loss of habitat is one of the major causes for the decline in Monarch butterfly numbers.
Loss of habitat is one of the major causes for the decline in Monarch butterfly numbers.

Story & photo by Tom Haxby

Once, in a tongue-tied moment, I used the phrase “photography with a porpoise”, but what I really meant to say was “photography with a purpose”. In the tradition of Ansel Adams, Phillip Hyde, George Masa (yes, you may have to look him up) and a long list of photographers who have utilized their photography to advocate for conservation of wildlife and landscapes, NANPA photographers continue to use photography as a medium of communication, nature appreciation, and environmental protection – yes, part of our mission statement.

It was my recent pleasure to participate in an awards committee call to review the latest round of NANPA award nominees.  We discussed the merits of those nominated for the environmental, emerging photographer and fine art in nature awards. The photography by all of the nominees is truly exceptional. And, I might add, so much of the photography I have seen by NANPA photographers is exceptional too. But for me, what really stood out, especially for those nominated for the environmental award, is the commitment to making a difference for nature.

It amazes me to see what a difference nature photographers can make by using their photos to tell a story. By capturing what is in front of our lenses to show a world that many people never get the chance to see, we are showing the species that are struggling in a world increasingly dominated by humans. And, it is not just the bad that we are documenting. We are showing how people who care about our environment are making a positive change. I have seen and heard the stories of so many NANPA photographers who are passionate about photographing birds, insects, amphibians, landscapes and more who are telling a story with their photos so that others will care too.

As part of NANPA’s commitment to the environment, this year a conservation category was added to the Showcase competition. NANPA has also released a Conservation Handbook (in the Members’ Area of the website) to guide photographers in getting involved in conservation projects. I have also heard many express the sentiment that the welfare of their photo subjects comes first. That is why we are advocating for ethics in photography, and the ethics committee is currently working on an Ethics Handbook, to expand on NANPA’s Principles of Ethical Field Practices.

On a personal note, two of my favorite photographic subjects are species that have recently seen alarming declines in population. The monarch butterfly and the common loon. The sunny part of my front yard is planted to support monarchs with milkweed and nectar producing plants that monarchs prefer. It is now a certified monarch waystation, because as I began to enjoy photographing monarchs, I also learned that loss of habitat is one of the major causes for the decline in their numbers.  The common loon, the iconic species on lakes of the Northwoods, faces a similar struggle for habitat. For several years now I have been photographing loons on local lake near my home. If you have never seen a loon or heard a loon call, it is a stirring experience.

Perhaps I can tell the story of these species through my photos and that will lead to action that will make a difference. It is my own small part, but I am so thankful and proud to be a member of NANPA as our members are doing so much with their purposeful photography to make a difference in our environment.