A few weeks ago I got an email from Jessica Riehl, who took my workshop at Maine Media two years ago. Jess’ vision for where she wanted to go in photography combined with a talented eye and instinctive street-smarts ensured she and I would hit it off wildly. She is exactly the kind of person I love to nudge along as they shape a career out of our growing genre of environmental photography.
Jess is like a news-board of happenings in our field in a way I wish I could be…so not surprising when when she sent me news of the Blue Earth Alliance’s 2nd annual Collaborations for Cause in Portland, Oregon, in late April.
Now in my defense I had been traveling in Patagonia without wifi for a few weeks…but in reality, I’d fallen off the back of the Blue Earth Alliance wagon in recent years. But several old Seattle pals are active in the organization, and the greatest of all old pals (I include us both as being old by the way) is current BEA president Dan Lamont, who’s bags I shlepped and lights I set up as his assistant about 15 years ago while in photography school in Seattle. But its not so much the heavy equipment I remember, it was Dan’s practical business advice (he was the president of ASMP at the time), his creative passion and his heartfelt belief that imagery can make the world a better place.
Dan’s words still ring true to me now, and I catch myself repeating them to the students of my workshops and the young photographers I work with. So many of the lessons he taught me, and even the vocabulary that he gave me about our profession are still so meaningful to me: “its not a job its a craft…do it with wisdom and integrity if you expect it to be sustainable for you in the future”…”in the interest of nurturing the craft you share your knowledge, you remain open to helping the collective”…and the most important: “Are you passionate about the story you are telling? Is it making the world a better place?” These all came directly from Dan all those years ago. So its not surprising he’d be at the helm of such an important event to foster knowledge, networking and shared experience in the realm of image-making for causes.
Im especially proud to be on the panel “Constructing Collaborations” where I’ll get to wave my favorite “relationship” flag. I believe this is step #1 in forming successful collaborations. Insightful, invested relationships. More on this after the conference!
For now, Im off to book my tickets to Portland, Oregon, on April 25. I cant wait to see Jess and Dan and lots of others who’s work I have admired all these years. If you are dipping your toes in the idea of combining your love of photography with a cause you are passionate about, you should JOIN US IN PORTLAND!
Bridget Besaw: Documentary adventures in the South Pacific.
I traveled to the Solomon Islands last July for The Nature Conservancy to document their work in two areas there. The first was an incredible story about a woman and the woman’s collective or as they called it the “mothers union” she had formed, which had successfully stopped a large-scale logging operation from destroying a nearby forest. The Solomons is a matriarchal society and so, by rights, the forest belonged to the women and their children. They came together, and, with a bit of help from The Conservancy, they defeated the efforts of the timber company. Check out the slideshow for a few images from that story.
The second part of my trip was to document the sea turtle monitoring program that Nature Conservancy founded in the region about 20 years ago, making it the longest continuous research program of its kind in the South Pacific. This was by far one of my favorite assignments in recent memory. I am a huge animal lover, but somehow never took the wildlife photography route. In fact, I’ve often admitted to being a lousy wildlife photographer since I believe it requires an entirely different skill-set, both creatively and technically. Im a people photographer and I’ve hung my hat on this ‘specialty’ as an environmental documentarian. I illustrate the HUMAN relationship to nature. A newly hatched nest of sea turtles may have changed my perspective for good–or at least balanced my own idea of how I’d like to cover nature in the future. I fell madly in love with these little guys and with photographing (and filming) them.
Speaking of photo VS film:
I ran into the same challenges I’d been experiencing recently while juggling stills and video coverage during critical moments that might only happen once. One such moment was after a mother turtle had just laid her eggs and was headed back into the sea. An iconic moment. I chose my old faithful and made the first image below, but when sitting down to make the video, I really wished we had this same situation in video. Luckily I got two chances to film and photograph the babies hatching–both a Hawksbill and a Green turtle nest (the Greens are the darker, quicker ones!) The slideshow includes a series of images made in the two nights I spent following the conservation monitors around (click here to see the video Tahria and I made of the program and the baby turtles scampering to sea.)
Bridget Besaw: Documentary adventures in Patagonia, Chile.
An update on this project is long overdue!
In May I returned to the Valle California property for a bit of winter coverage and to collect video of Alex Amit as he explored the conservation easement property he was considering purchasing from Patagonia Sur. Alex’s need to travel to the property provided a perfect storyline for the video which speaks of the limited development real-estate aspect of the company’s conservation plan. Upon returning from that trip back to my home in Portland, Maine, I made the six-block journey down to Commercial street in Portland to interview the President of GMRI (Gulf of Maine Research Institute) as part of the video about the MERI project at the Melimoyu coastal preserve site also owned by Patagonia Sur.
Over the course of the summer we wove all of these materials and the vast library of footage Dani and I had collected over the previous months into a series of videos designed to celebrate and promote the important work that Patagonia Sur is doing in Chile. (You can find the four videos we’ve made so far here.)
Note about the post-pro process: The first three videos in this series (Real-estate, Reserves and the Melimoyu marine program) were edited by my long-time picture agency Aurora Novus, who did a super job of weeding through our massive archive of footage and interviews. However since my relationship with Patagonia Sur is a long-term, multi-faceted one that I suspect over the years will pull from this library of footage and imagery, we decided to bring the editing back in-house here at Seedlight Pictures. With my direction, Tahria edited the Foundation piece and we look forward to making the carbon offsets and reforestation videos soon!
The slideshow includes a few images Alex and I made while in Valle California last May to shoot the LDA (real-estate) video (Photos by Alex Amit on the Leica S2 and Bridget Besaw on the Canon Mark III).
Bridget Besaw: On assignment in Haiti and Georgia.
I spent last July on the road for Nature Conservancy creating photography and collecting video at four of their key programs to be featured in the annual report. In the village of Tilori, in Haiti, I photographed and filmed a pilot project that has donated solar ovens and efficient stoves to 25 families. The Conservancy is working to prevent deforestation by providing education and support for more sustainable alternatives to cooking with wood.
While shooting a story revolving around cooking in 100+ degrees in Haiti was at times a challenge, I was truly inspired by the power and impact of this program. These solar ovens have great potential to create positive change for these communities and for the forests surrounding them. I found myself wishing I could afford to buy hundreds of the ovens for the whole village. Watch the video here and scroll down to see some of the images.
Also in July I traveled to southern Georgia to photograph and film a water conservation project that works with farmers to reduce the amount of water used while irrigating crops in an effort to preserve the Flint River. Watch the video here and scroll down to see some of the images.
It certainly was tricky at times to capture photography, video and audio interviews– sometimes all at once while in precarious (often swelteringly hot and dusty) field conditions, but I’m pleased with how The Conservancy edited and produced these pieces and I hope they will prove effective in raising awareness and funding to continue these valuable programs.
Stay tuned for photos and about the other two programs I documented in July: Sea Turtles and avoided deforestation in the Solomon Islands.
Recently Bridget was asked to produce a slideshow to accompany readings of Rachel Carson’s landmark work, Silent Spring, for the book’s 50th anniversary celebrations hosted by Cornerstones of Science in Portland last week. For most, the book is a household name and for environmentalists, it is seen as the catalyst that inspired a new way of thinking and acting toward the environment. For a long-time environmentalist, it was an honor for Bridget to have the opportunity to present her work in concert with a legend like Rachel. Cornerstones selected an array of key passages and then handed the creative reins over to us.
What at first appeared a simple audio slideshow proved more complex to craft. Rachel’s prose was so groundbreaking in its unashamed frankness when speaking of the environmental damage that had and would occur as a result of pesticide misuse. Fortunately, many of the stories Bridget has covered over the years have been of environmental triumphs – documenting people who have fought for environmental conservation and for a sustainable connection with the land. Thus, partnering these images with Rachel’s weighty words became a delicate task to ensure the piece had clarity in its sentiment. We hope the final piece conveys the prescience of book whilst also demonstrating that, 50 years down the track, some of us have learned a thing or two from Rachel.
Seedlight is now a partner producer in five video vignettes for the winter issue of Nature Conservancy Magazine. This was a new type of project for us where the video series is integrated with a digital feature article. The story, which Bridget created the imagery for the print edition and collected the video content for the digital edition, reports on the acquisition of a huge portion – over 300,000 acres – of woodland in Maine’s North Woods. In progressing the magazine into the digital realm, the Conservancy has designed the article so that the viewer ‘flicks’ through pages on their iPad and then clicks on icons on a map to initiate the videos. This was a really enjoyable project for us to work on because it required us to think outside the box – in particular in creating a vertical teaser that acts as a launch video ‘inviting’ the viewer to watch the rest of the content. It was certainly a collaboration in the truest sense of the word in terms of working together with the Conservancy to create a final product new to both of us.
As opposed to a lot of our work, which is very narrative-based, these vignettes were designed to be more experiential glimpses into the North Woods. Editorially, this allowed us to focus on creating beautiful visuals of each experience, letting each shot breathe and build on one another. We included only scant narration from Bridget from the perspective of documentarian, and then let the pilot, fisherman, guide and hiker take the viewer on the journey with them. Individually, each character provides a very distinct experience of these protected lands, yet together they paint a cohesive picture of the North Woods experience.
We’re very excited about the potential for multimedia integration with editorial content to produce a more interactive experience for the reader in this new realm of digital publishing and are keen to see where the next project takes us.
Check out what else Seedlight Productions is up to here.
|Bridget Besaw: Workshop updates from Maine.Following a successful trip earlier this year, Leica has announced the 2013 Preserving Patagonia workshop, which I will be heading up as part of its Leica Akademie North America workshop series. We will be heading back to Valle California the conservation of this spectacular region of Patagonia. Learn more about the workshop and sign up here or read more about the Leica Akademie workshop series here.
Flick through the slideshow before to see some more of amazing adventures students had in the 2012 workshop!
Bridget Besaw: Documentary adventures in Patagonia, Chile.
While Patagonia Sur owns six properties covering nearly 60,000 acres of land in the Aysen region of Patagonia, this phase of my coverage will only allow time to photograph and film the northernmost three properties of Lago Espolon, Valle California and Melimoyu. These are the sites with the most fully realized vision of the Patagonia Sur concept of “ecosystem-scale conservation”.
Melimoyu is one of the greatest examples I have seen of this concept. On our first trip, I felt instantly at home—and yet on another planet. Melimoyu lies at the southern edge of the Valdivian temperate rainforest and the northern edge of the sub-Antarctic rainforest. You often hear people refer to this part of coastal Patagonia as very “Avatar” looking. For me, every step through this enchanted forest or boat trip along these dramatic shores feels like being in an Imax film. Luckily we don’t have to rely on Hollywood alone to experience pristine wilderness at such a large scale!
The reserve that Patagonia Sur has created here is accessible only by air or sea, which is part of what has kept this place so special. Preservation begins at the top of the 7,200 foot glacier-covered Mt. Melimoyu, flowing down through virgin native forests of Arrayan & Coihue trees, glacial-fed rivers, waterfalls as tall as Niagara—all tumbling out to Melimoyu Bay off the Gulf of Corcovado, where each summer the southern hemisphere’s population of blue whales congregates off the coast that surrounds the property to feed after having given birth to their calves.
The Patagonia Sur guides that live here share their dramatic land and seascapes with so much knowledge and passion that they become an equally fulfilling aspect of experiencing this incredible place.
My friend Willard Morgan, President of Chewonki back in Maine came to visit the Patagonia Sur properties with the idea of someday developing a Patagonia Sur partnership to expand Chewonki’s programs in wilderness trips and environmental education. Isidora expertly and enthusiastically guided him through all sorts of new forest sights and sounds.
Sebastian took us on a light footed walk in search of the Darwin frog, and after cautioning us that the tiny (often fingernail size) green frogs were very difficult to find, his quiet ease in this forest guided us to so many Darwin frogs that we had to remind ourselves that they are in-fact endangered! (Count ‘em: 16 in a one-hour walk!)
In just a few days our first Seedlight/Patagonia Sur/Leica environmental photo workshop “Preserving Patagonia” will be here (if all goes well with weather and small plane transport to this remote spot!) I look forward to sharing with my workshop participants the wild wonders of Melimoyu—no movie theater required!
Bridget Besaw: Documentary adventures in Patagonia, Chile.
One aspect of the Patagonia Sur story that compels me is their carbon-offset program. They have a vision of reforesting much of their land as another means to create a diverse, financially sustainable way to invest in the future Patagonia.
As a documentarian, I tend to prefer photographing something that is actually happening as apposed to illustrating an idea. So I’d been struggling with how to visually tell this story of their work in reforestation and carbon sales. I hadn’t come up with a good option since the actual tree planting doesn’t happen for another few months and so at this moment, these tiny trees are just growing, waiting to become a native, tall, proud carbon sequestering forest someday.
I heard that Patagonia Sur had created an internship program with three students from the University of Chile to be on the property for 2 months collecting data and evaluating the previously planted plots of native trees (mostly Lenga, Coihue and Nirre). This is in conjunction with a visit from the US VCS (Verified Carbon Standard) validator, so I finally had the “action on the ground” I’d been looking for.
Dani and I hopped on the horses to follow the monitoring and VCS team through the valley amidst the giant Lenga. These trees were burned 50 years ago when this entire valley, and much of Patagonia had been burned to the ground to make way for grazing.
But if you look (and step) carefully, you will see the beginnings of a new forest. Baby Coihue and Nirre trees less than a foot tall are scattered throughout the valley among the graveyard of their ancestors.
I asked Javier (see “Gaucho” post) to join us since we are making a short film about how his life has changed since Patagonia Sur bought these lands. Javier was actually on the crew that planted the trees last year, so I wanted some footage of him in that setting—a stark contrast to Gauchos of past generations.
We listened (and photographed and shot video) as Matias Rio, the Patagonia Sur Manager of Forestry Operations explained to the VCS validator how the plots had been planted randomly to simulate the way a native forest would begin. They collected data to verify that the project was legitimate and well managed. A VCS certification will help Patagonia Sur to better market the carbon that will be contained in these trees. And, one day it will hopefully look like the 400+ year old Lenga forest on the western side of the valley that was spared from the flames.
Bridget Besaw: Documentary adventures in Patagonia, Chile.
In the past few months when someone asks me to describe the scope of my current project for Patagonia Sur, I often realize that the very thing that attracted me to the company, and to their story, is the thing that can at times become overwhelming from a documentary standpoint: the diversity of subject matter and the variety of story angles from within this one larger story of “conservation for profit” can be a struggle to lasso!
To help me keep the many stories clear in my mind (and for the sanity of my field producer Dani) I often create fairly elaborate spread sheets with things like story categories, possible subjects, kinds of images/video that will help tell the story, timing of events etc. I started doing this several years ago on the Pacific Northwest salmon restoration project for The Nature Conservancy, where we were dealing with 5 states, multiple restoration strategies and ultimately a goal of 10 short videos. I’ve used basically the same spreadsheet template for the Northwoods book and for the Maine Farmland Trust projects. My workshop students tell me there are now much more user/viewer friendly ways to organize information, but I still find a good, old-fashioned excel spreadsheet the best way to keep from feeling like a very scattered storyteller!
One category I have begun to include in large project spreadsheets is the “HEART” row (or is it a column?) The question is: what is at the heart of this story? And how (or WHO) can best tell that story in a way that engages not only our minds but also our hearts? For me, the Patagonia Sur story can be boiled down, very simply, to one of the human relationship to nature. Every story within their larger story is about how that relationship can be sustainably protected and nurtured.
The gauchos of Patagonia have been living in close relationship to nature for generations. To spend even a few hours with one of them reminds you instantly how far most of us have come from living in harmony with nature. My first experience photographing gauchos was during the ILCP Patagonia RAVE, when I was lucky enough to spend 3 days literally “in the field” with Betancour, the gaucho in the new Patagonia National Park. After that, I was determined to create more opportunities to follow these guys around by horseback!
Here in Valle California, the gaucho culture is very much alive, although, like the story of these wild lands, their story is also changing. With the introduction of a conservation model to this region comes the inevitable shift from a strictly resource based livelihood to one that also includes some interaction with tourism as a growing aspect of the economic development of the region.
Young men like Gustavo and Javier are working for Patagonia Sur not only as traditional gaucho’s working with sheep, cattle and horses in the “campo” area of the property, but they are also horse guides for the guests to safely roam the many spectacular hectares of the valley. They continually inspire guests with their skill with a lasso and a “facon” (traditional gaucho knife worn in the back of the pants) as well as with their ability to charm the most ornery horse (or guest!)
Here are a few photos of Gustavo and Javier at work on the Patagonia Sur property. All of these are made with my Leica M9…in my opinion the best camera by far to make images from horseback!