I’ve always enjoyed water. I grew up on a small rural stream with frogs, moss, trout, rocks and fog. Years later, copiloting over sub-Sahara Africa, I saw clearly that where there was no water, there was no life. Thus, No Water No Life ® (NWNL) became the title of my quest to combine the powers of photography, science and stakeholder information to raise awareness of the vulnerability of our fresh water resources.
The following are my daily mantras:
African proverb: “You think of water when the well is dry.”
Leonardo da Vinci: “Water is the driver of nature.”
The Dalai Lama: “The first medicine on this planet was water.”
Words are powerful. But, if one photograph has the power of 1,000 words, then a photograph that is captioned must be worth 100,000 words.
NANPA award recipient James Balog said, “Science gave me a new lens through which to see the world… a more holistic view and appreciation of the natural environment.” I too relish having science and NWNL goals attached to my lenses, endowing my images with greater impact.
In eight years NWNL has completed 22 expeditions to six case-study watersheds in Africa (Nile, Omo and Mara river basins) and North America (Columbia, Mississippi and Raritan river basins). Resulting imagery, research and blogs are on our website (http://www.nowater-nolife.org) — and those of International Rivers, American Rivers and others. NWNL documentation is further shared via social media, lectures, exhibits, and in books and magazine articles.
We’ve focused on glaciers and tarns (in the Columbia, Mississippi and Nile basins), lakes (including Kenya’s Lake Turkana, now imperiled by Ethiopian hydro-dams on the Omo River), meadows and Texas playas, wetlands (half of these naturally-filtered nurseries are already gone), tributaries, forests (disappearing from Earth at a rate of 36 football fields per minute), riparian corridors, flyways, estuaries and delta lands (disappearing from the Mississippi Delta at the rate of one football field per hour).
NWNL has interviewed hundreds of scientists, stewards and stakeholders. These commentaries, which we call “Voices of the River,” discuss pollution, climate change, fracking, population growth in Africa, dams and levees, water usage by agriculture and industry, and tropic cascades of predators—anything impacting the health of watersheds. NWNL has recorded solutions from Canadian glaciologists, Maasai wilderness guides, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, historians, farmers and others on how to protect riverine corridors and ecosystems and ensure freshwater availability and quality.
The overall NWNL goal is to transcend boundaries, bridge divisions and differences, suggest the shape of the future, capture imagination, stir consciences and create change. At NANPA’s 2002 Jacksonville Summit, art critic Vicki Goldberg described the power of photography to meet these objectives: “A photograph is like a lobbyist who sways a legislator.” Apollo 17’s “Blue Marble,” probably the most widely distributed image in human history, is a great example of imagery awakening a global awareness of our unique watery bonds. The connection with Earth’s beauty, which that image evokes, mirrors a comment by Terry Tempest Williams at the October 2014 observance of the 50th anniversary of The Wilderness Act: “We have no choice but to stand for what we love… We the people must walk with the river.”
NWNL will be collating and publishing many more images, videos and essays in online and print media. Upcoming NWNL photoessays will assess and compare water issues in developed and developing worlds, rural and urban regions, upstream and downstream. NWNL will also continue its newly initiated “Spotlights” on critical water issues such as the devastating drought in California.
NWNL appreciates the voluntary contributions of student interns’ research and guest photographers on our expeditions. We also thank photographers working in our case-study watersheds who share their images and findings with NWNL.
NWNL fiscal support comes from individuals, family foundations, grants and generous in-kind donations. To support NWNL in raising awareness of the vulnerability of our freshwater resources, checks to No Water No Life can be sent to Alison Jones, director of No Water No Life, 330 East 79th Street, NY, NY 10075 or via PayPal offered on the NWNL website http://nowater-nolife.org/supportUs/index.html).
Alison M. Jones is a conservation photographer who has documented ecosystems and resource management for more than 25 years in Africa and the Americas. She is the director and lead photographer at NWNL.