“There are no rules for Technique, only solutions. Today’s Darkrooms may soon be replaced with electronic consoles. Yet after thirty years, Steiglitz’s advice to me remains constant: ‘The only thing that matters is the finished photograph.’ “
Arnold Newman, 1965
As a teacher of photography, I often quote Arnold Newman because he is speaking about the essence of creating a meaningful photograph.
My background is in the traditional, large-format, black and white school of photography of Edward Weston in the 1920s, and later of Ansel Adams. I worked with a camera similar to that used by Weston and Adams, an 8”x10” view camera, so called so because the film was 8×10 inches. My camera, ten film holders, and tripod together weighed 40 pounds. Cumbersome equipment, but that was just the way it was if you wanted to make high quality images. Back in the 60’s and 70’s it was called fine art photography.
Many years have passed but the basic principals are the same. In the dark room we could crop the image, increase or decrease exposure, increase or decrease contrast, burn and dodge areas to lighten or darken those areas selectively. We can do all this and more now with more ease than ever before. Continue reading →
Proposed Wilderness in the Clearwater Basin of Idaho’s Bitterroot Mountains.
By Krista Schlyer
This week marks the 50th anniversary of The Wilderness Act. Americans will be greeting this occasion in myriad ways. Wilderness lovers and protectors will be lauding our foresight as a nation to recognize the value of wilderness and codify that value with strong protections; many will be celebrating the 750-plus wilderness areas now protected under the act. Some will assess the uncounted acres of wilderness that have been lost to development, exploitation, and political failure, as well as the floundering health of this landmark legislation. A few members of Congress will be devising new ways to skirt or dissolve the act, along with every other environmental safeguard. And many Americans will watch the week pass never knowing there was anything special about it.
To me, The Wilderness Act may be the most hopeful piece of legislation ever passed, based on one of the noblest ideas humanity has ever conjured. Wilderness as a valued concept, as a state of being that must be protected, acknowledges three important realities: that untouched, undeveloped, forever-wild land has value in and of itself; that we as a species if given the opportunity will destroy it; and that for so many reasons, impossible to articulate, we need to live in a world where large areas of wild land exist outside of our reach and exploitation. We need it, as Wallace Stegner said, for “our sanity as creatures.”
When President Lyndon Johnson signed The Wilderness Act into law September 3, 1964, he stated: “If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it.”
I have worked for more than a decade as a conservation photographer and writer, and during that time I have documented numerous locations that epitomize Johnson’s divergent states of the land, “the world as it was in the beginning” and the world “after we got through with it.” The wilderness, and the once-wilderness, and some places that exist in sad limbo somewhere in between. Each has something to offer to the story of wilderness.
The Anacostia River, in Washington DC, was once a wild paradise of rich diversity that nurtured a sustainable civilization of native people and abundant wild plants and animals. By the time we were finished with it, the native people were extinct, the river’s waters were so toxic and filled with human waste that 2/3 of the catfish now have cancerous tumors, and swimming in the river was pronounced illegal out of public health concerns. The building of a nation brought the Anacostia wilderness to its knees almost two centuries before The Wilderness Act was signed. It didn’t stand a chance.
Brown bullhead catfish with a cancerous lesion in the Anacostia watershed, Washington DC.
But a handful of designated wilderness areas along the US-Mexico borderlands, did stand a chance, and still do, in theory. Lines drawn by Congress, or at least approved by them, continue to demarcate roadless wild lands under the Wilderness Act, but in name only. Since 2005 and the Real ID Act, the borderlands have been stripped of environmental protections by the US Congress. The Wilderness Act no longer applies along 2000 miles of some of the wildest most biodiverse lands in the United States. It was a matter of political expediency. Despite the presence of many endangered species and imperiled ecosystems, (and despite ample evidence that border walls and militarization do not stop human migration), the government didn’t want environmental safeguards slowing down the military machine.
Desert cottontail rabbit at the US-Mexico border wall under construction in southern Arizona.
A different type of machinery stands at the door of a third location, the Clearwater Basin in Idaho, one of the United States’ wildest remaining mountain landscapes yet to receive protections under the Wilderness Act. Advocates began proposing a wilderness designation for the Clearwater decades ago, only to see the acreage whittled away in the interest of timber extraction, road construction and off-road vehicle use.
Salmon heading upstream to spawn in the Clearwater Basin.
All three of these places present a different struggle and opportunity within the discourse about wilderness. The Anacostia offers a cautionary tale about what often becomes of a wilderness unprotected. In this watershed the most economically disadvantaged citizens of the nation’s capital continue to eat fish and swim in a river long ago abandoned by most as a toxic waste pit. But even now, despite centuries of abuse and neglect, there are opportunities to undo some of the harm we have done and re-create this river through restoration and in some places re-wilding.
Kayaker on the Anacostia River.
In the borderlands, where every day the US government is eroding The Wilderness Act and wilderness itself, environmental protections could be returned to the land, if Congress were just to act in good faith and honor our most treasured environmental laws.
Kit foxes in the US-Mexico borderlands.
The Clearwater, its crystalline waters, salmon runs and old growth cedar forests, are on the precipice of protection, awaiting the state and local communities to express their faith in the importance of clean water and air and open wild spaces where people can get lost and learn to love the land in a way no other experience can afford them.
And all three of these places offer one singular hope for the wild species that inhabit them, the hope of a future to live their lives in this great ecosystem of Earth. The beaver, catfish and cedar waxwings of the Anacostia River; the jackrabbits, green jays and kit foxes of the borderlands; and the salmon, black bears and wolves of the Clearwater, all depend on us. Our pact with wilderness, made 50 years ago this week, and our commitment to honor that pact, will determine their future, and ours.
Beaver on the Anacostia River.
Krista Schlyer is a photographer and writer living in the Washington DC area. She is a senior fellow in the International League of Conservation Photographers, and author of the book Continental Divide: Wildlife, People and the Border Wall, winner of the 2013 National Outdoor Book Award. View more her work on her website at www.KristaSchlyer.com.
Schlyer will give a presentation on “Nature At The Borderlands” in one of the breakout sessions at the2015 NANPA Summit taking place in San Diego, California from February 19th – 22nd. To learn more about the Summit and to register for this exciting and inspirational event, please visit www.naturephotographysummit.com. Early bird registration ends on October 31st!
I took the podium and looked out over the room: seven hundred men and women, some of the finest nature photographers in the world. This was the North American Nature Photographer’s Association’s (NANPA) Second Annual Forum and it was my job to bring it to a close.
That morning, I had holed up in my hotel room trying to come up with what I would say. My mind wandered back over my own career as a photographer — not so much the photographs but rather the experiences and the lessons I had learned.
I thought about the natural cycles I had so often witnessed while photographing – the seasons, the tides, the rising and setting of the sun. How many thousands of times I had I watched them? Like watching the smooth muscle of the planet — the things our little orb can’t help but do. Like watching the earth breathe.
During the revolution Martín Luis Guzmán rode the train through Navojoa and looked over at the sierra and felt what we all do when we see its green folds rising up off the desert. We all wonder what is up there and in some part of us, that rich part where our mind plays beyond our commands, we all dread and lust for what is up there.
–Charles Bowden, The Secret Forest
In 2009 the Tucson based environmental group “Sky Island Alliance” launched a visionary initiative to explore, document and protect one of the world’s premier biodiversity hotspots, the Madrean Archipelago of the North American continent. This 70,000 square-mile region of sky-island mountain ranges, surrounded by “seas” of desertscrub and grasslands, straddles the borderlands of the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico.
Commonly referred to as the Sky Islands, the Madrean Archipelago is a globally unique region where several major biogeographic provinces overlap, creating a region of biological richness found nowhere else on Earth. This richness caused Conservation International to name the region one of the world’s Biodiversity Hotspots in 2004. Despite its proximity to the U.S. border, the Mexican portion of this remote and rugged area has received little biological study; thus the Madrean Archipelago Biodiversity Assessment (MABA) was born, an international effort to study a globally important region.
With support from U.S. and Mexican experts in the fields of botany, entomology, ornithology, herpetology, mammalogy, and other disciplines, MABA expeditions are truly international and provide an opportunity to collect critical biodiversity data, foster graduate and undergraduate research, raise awareness about conservation in the region and develop important relationships with landowners, and land managers, on both sides of the border.
I have had the good fortune of being invited to participate in the MABA expeditions as the lead photographer since its inception. I often accompany a herpetologist into the field and provide photographic vouchers of the reptiles and amphibians we encounter. In addition, I document habitat types and capture images of the biologist at work.
After a day in the field, I continue to photograph herpetological, botanical, and entomological specimens brought back to camp by other teams of biologists. These animals must all be photographed that evening so that they may be returned, unharmed, to their point of capture the next morning. My images not only help document the diversity of life found in these remote mountain ranges, but also help to tell the story of this amazing project, its expeditions, and the many people involved.
Major findings from MABA expeditions include the discovery ofseveral new plant species as well as documenting many plant species previously unknown to the state of Sonora. MABA entomologists continue to make new discoveries, documenting more than 10 species of invertebrates that are new to science. Range extensions for a variety of species are frequently recorded.
One of the greatest achievements of the Madrean Archipelago Biodiversity Assessment has been the development of a growing, online database of biodiversity. It is a remarkable natural history tool that provides access to the region’s foremost collection of specimen records and species observations for anyone seeking to learn more about the Sky Islands. This database currently contains nearly 78,000 animal records and almost 35,000 plant records for the states of Arizona, New Mexico, Sonora, and Chihuahua. These data represent the products of MABA research expeditions as well as data from herbaria, museum collections, agencies and scientific literature. The database (www.madrean.org) is freely accessible to all.
Charles Hedgcock will share his experiences working with the MABA project and discuss some of the techiques he uses to document the amazing diversity of life found during the numerous MABA expeditions at the 2015 NANPA Summit taking place in San Diego, California from February 19th – 22nd. To learn more about the Summit and to register for this program and others like it, please visit www.naturephotographysummit.com.
The 2015 NANPA Summit is shaping up to be a great event.
A star-studded group of keynote speakers include
and Dewitt Jones
The breakout speakers vary from familiar names as well as new and emerging talent and plenty of viewpoints.
serious, hard-core Lightroom techniques
preparing work for fine art exhibits (including a look at the “before and after”)
how-to topics galore, such as landscape, birds and multimedia
plus conservation topics and personal projects.
The pre-Summit Boot Camp will be back and filled with how-to and inspiration. For the working professionals, a Pro Day on Sunday will be packed with meaty business topics and discussion. The tradeshow gives a chance to visit vendors offering products, tours and services. More details are being worked out. But for now, put February 19-22, 2015 on your calendar. The 2015 NANPA Summit is an event not to be missed.
A Metallic Green Bee (Augochloropsis metallica) visits a Black-eyed Susan.
Since Niall Benvie and I first developed Meet Your Neighbours in 2009 I’ve seen my fair share of amazing, beautiful and sometimes bizarre creatures. From the beginning, I’ve worked almost exclusively in the land that surrounds my home near the Southern Appalachians in upstate South Carolina, USA. Rather naïvely, I suspected that after a short period of time I would begin to run out of subjects to photograph but nothing could be further from the truth. Seldom does a day go by that I don’t see a creature or plant that I’ve never seen before in the wild, anywhere! As Piotr Naskrecki points out in his fantastic book The Smaller Majority, “Over 99% of life on Earth is smaller than your finger.” It’s little wonder then that the careful observer will be awarded with a lifetime of discovery.