A new home. A new job. A new approach to photography.
At the end of 2016 I accepted a job with The Nature Conservancy in Oregon. I packed up my belongings, moved to Medford, OR, and completed my two and a half year “lap around the U.S.” In the last three years I’ve lived in New York, Maine, Florida, Nebraska, and Montana. I’ve learned so much about conservation and gotten to know some inspiring photographers, namely Michael Forsberg, Chris Helzer, and Mac Stone. From them I’ve learned the immense value of being in one place for a long time. In doing so, you develop an intimate understanding of the local issues and form crucial relationships to other people. It’s this level of understanding and dedication, I’ve learned, that makes truly great photography.
In contrast, for the last three years I’ve mainly been taking pretty pictures, writing opportunistic blog posts, and occasionally working on small video projects. This has been incredibly fun and important practice, but after seeing positive change other photographers have achieved with more focused projects I’m inspired to take a new approach. I’ve decided to focus my photography on two specific causes.
One is the story of vernal pools in southwest Oregon. Vernal pools and the prairie/oak habitat that they’re connected to are incredibly beautiful, dynamic, and under-appreciated. Like the prairies I explored in Nebraska, vernal pools receive almost no public celebration and require a slow, close look to fully appreciate. But boy is a careful look rewarded. I’ve never seen a wildflower explosion like what I saw last month. Sadly, vernal pools have all but disappeared from the Rogue Valley (my new home) as well as the thoughts of most of its residents. But through The Nature Conservancy I’m closely involved in a really exciting vernal pool restoration that gives me hope for their future. Over the next couple years, I’ll be working to develop a body of images that raises appreciation for Oregon’s vernal pools and support for their restoration and stewardship.
The other story is of forest restoration. At a first glance, Oregon’s forests seem like they’re doing great; they’re picturesquely verdant and vast. But as one Ph.D. ecologist put it to me, “These forests are ready to blow.” The fact is, much of southwest Oregon’s forests are quite unhealthy, in large part due to a century of fire suppression. Without frequent, mild fires, our forests have grown overly dense and homogeneous. Many shade-intolerant species are dying out. The overcrowded forests are filled with sickly trees that are prone to severe wildfire, drought, disease, and pests. A key challenge to fixing this problem is a lack of public understanding of the problems and solutions. First, many people don’t recognize that our forests are in a downward spiral. Second, there is understandable confusion around the necessary restoration practices, which primarily involve cutting trees and conducting prescribed burns. I think a multimedia project that shows the results of fire suppression and benefits of restoration would greatly help the public understand why it’s imperative that we change the way we manage our forests.
Both of these stories appeal to me because of their conservation importance, strong visual components, and urgent need for public support. I’m really excited to apply my photography to such meaningful causes. Working on these complex stories has me approaching photography like I never have before. I now have a list of images I want, a timeline, and many to-do’s that don’t involve taking photos, like talking to people, doing research, and building tools. As a result, I’ve been constantly busy, but photography has never felt more meaningful.