One of Summit’s flagship in-person workshops is the Nature and Conservation workshop held in Jackson, WY each fall. Among the fantastic shooting opportunities and friendships being made, the students hear from the incredible lineup of instructors; each one identifying as a “conservation photographer and/or filmmaker.”
But a mere 15 years ago, that term was relatively unheard of. Even today, many people have never heard of conservation photography. So what is this field of visual storytelling?
Conservation photography is using image-making and storytelling to share stories of environmental issues, successes, and impacts and then using those stories to engage audiences and drive action. Conservation photography sits at the intersection of art, communication, and activism. Each of our Nature Workshop instructors are members of the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP), a nonprofit organization and Summit Partner whose mission is to support environmental and cultural conservation through ethical photography and filmmaking. Its members, Summit Faculty included, have dedicated their life’s work to using powerful imagery as a tool for conservation.
This Earth day, we are hearing a lot about the importance of protecting our planet and actions we need to take. But, conservation photography shows us that we can draw on our own skillset as visual storytellers, to help support these environmental causes. Below are a few case-studies from Summit Faculty, showing how they did just that:
Peter Mather & Katie Schuler
Throughout 2018, the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP) supported a series of rapid response expeditions into Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to highlight the urgent need to protect this threatened national treasure. They were part of the wave of people working to raise awareness for the pristine and important part of the world that is the Arctic Refuge and to encourage Congress to reconsider the decision to allow drilling in the Coastal Plain of Alaska’s Arctic National Refuge.
This expedition was led by Peter Mather and included Katie Schuler. Peter dealt with many of the expedition details and took some fantastic photographs that were featured in many articles, helping to spread the word of the importance of this threatened area. Katie partnered with the Wilderness Society and made an award-winning film that drew on the heartstrings of many, supporting the protection of this land for the wildlife and the Gwich’in people.
Clay Bolt partnered with iLCP and the Xerces Society to create storytelling efforts to protect the rusty patched bumblebee (Bombus affinis). He produced a series of images and, with partners produced a film about the bee called, “A Ghost in the Making.” The efforts were critical to getting it listed on the Endangered Species List. In 2017, it became the first bee in the continental U.S. to get protection under the Endangered Species Act. Bolt has since continued to champion bees of all kinds, but particularly bumblebees.
In 2015, Dave published a book, Sage Spirit: The American West at a Crossroads, published by Braided River Publishing in partnership with Audubon Rockies, The Wilderness Society, and Sierra Club Wyoming Chapter. The book tells the story of the imperiled Greater Sage-grouse and Gunnison Sage-grouse, indicator species for the health of the ecosystem, which is collapsing under the weight of development. The plight of Sage-grouse challenges us to conserve their habitat, shared with 350 other endemic and iconic species.
Dave used the book and images to speak to audiences, connect with stakeholders, and widely share the story of Sage-grouse and the need for conservation efforts.
Storytelling is one of the most powerful tools we have. And as photographers, we can create visual narratives to talk about the issues we are passionate about. As Dave Showalter says, “trust your ideas and that you can do great things with a camera in hand.”