Written by: Addison Regennitter
There is no doubt that the biodiversity on Earth is at risk. Human expansion and climate change are the major factors causing this decrease in biodiversity. There is even certainty that we have yet to discover all of the species on this planet—even these unknown species are at risk from being lost forever before they’re found.
Conservationists have always existed—those who feel deeply connected with nature and realize that humans are not above, but rather living amongst the natural world around them. Early conservation efforts can be found in writing (such as with the works of John Muir, Henry David Thoreau, or Aldo Leopold) and with pen and brush (as with the art of Maria Sibylla Merian or John James Audubon). As technology has increased, so has the ability to portray the wilderness in its actuality. As conservation photography grew, so did the number of people who sought to protect what they saw so realistically in these images.
Photography has changed the perspectives and mindsets of countless numbers of people. As photography advanced, so did the realization of the importance of the preservation of the species we have left. Here are some (but certainly not all) of the people who have inspired such change, both in early American history and today:
WILLIAM HENRY JACKSON | 1843 – 1942
William Henry Jackson was a painter before he was a photographer, but his focus was always on nature. After fighting in the Civil War at a young age, he became a member of the surveys exploring the American West. His photographs of Yellowstone and the Rocky Mountains on the Hayden Survey of 1871 helped lead to the creation of the world’s first National Park: Yellowstone. While he was not strictly a conservationist, his photographs paved the way for the desire to protect America’s unique landscapes. Jackson’s expeditions to capture places never before seen by the citizens of the US were critical in America setting an example for the world by reserving land strictly for its preservation.
You can learn more about Jackson and his life here.
ANSEL ADAMS | 1902 – 1984
Ansel Adams, whose photographs are still highly sought after today, inspired the people of the United States to protect the wilderness of California. His most famous photographs are of the Yosemite Valley and Half Dome, portraying each in a way that unveils a breathtaking natural wonder to those who had never imagined such a geological marvel in the United States. Not only did he capture these wild places on camera, but Adams also was an activist in conservation organizations and a lobbyist on behalf of environmental issues. Adams’ eye for photography and voice for conservation led him to be a legacy in the fields of photography and conservation.
Learn more about Adams at his website, www.anseladams.com.
BRIAN SKERRY | 1961 –
Brian Skerry’s photography has a large focus on marine environments and marine conservation. He brings the mysteries of the ocean to surface, showcasing their splendor. Some of his most-renowned work is done on the conservation of sharks (he even released a book in June of 2017 entitled SHARK). Not only is he changing our perspectives on the ocean’s top predators, he is also shining a light on both endangered species (such as the right whale) and climate change (as he photographs harp seal pups struggling on thinning sea ice). Skerry uses his talents as a photographer and storyteller to uplift out-of-sight issues into a light where they can be realized by millions. His talent has earned him many awards, including the 2017 National Geographic Explorer of the Year, Wildlife Photographer of the Year (11-time winner), and the only photographer to ever win the Peter Benchley Award for Excellence in Media. He performs talks on photography and conservation at various venues, including addressing the United Nations, TED Talks, and more. He is also a founding member of the International League of Conservation Photographers, a non-profit aimed towards furthering environmental education and conservation through ethical photography.
Find out more about Skerry’s work and efforts at brianskerry.com.
CRISTINA MITTERMEIER | 1966 –
Cristina Mittermeier received her degree in Biochemical Engineering in Marine Sciences from the ITESM University in Mexico with a desire to save the world. On accident, she got involved in photography, and her passion only grew from there. She attended the Fine Art Photography program at the Corcoran College for the Arts before starting her full-time career as a photographer. In 2005, she founded the International League of Conservation Photographers (ILCP) to encourage the idea of creating for the sake of conservation and education. She also co-founded Sea Legacy with Paul Nicklen, dedicated to storytelling that promotes the protection of our oceans. Mittermeier has shot for TIME, National Geographic, and McLean’s, and has received numerous awards for her photographs and conservation efforts. Her mission, as she states, is simple: “To capture fleeting moments eloquently and to translate them visually so that the universal human experience is recorded for future generations to see.” Mittermeier, as an inspiring woman in conservation photography, is the global connection among humans and the wild places on Earth, inviting us to conjure imaginative solutions to protect our threatened ecosystems.
More of Mittermeier’s work and efforts can be found at her website, www.cristinamittermeier.com
JOEL SARTORE | 1962 –
Joel Sartore is the vanguard of endangered species and conservation. Among his many awards, he is the 2018 National Geographic Explorer of the Year. In 2005, Sartore founded the Photo Ark, an incredible series of photographs of the world’s endangered species—not just mammals and birds, but reptiles, amphibians, and insects. Each species is given the same spotlight, signifying their equal value. He’s photographed 8,485 species to date, all in human care at zoos and wildlife sanctuaries around the world; however, his work is far from finished, as he estimates there are about 12,000 species total in human care, which would take him another 15 years to document. His unique collection gives the world a chance to see what we’re protecting and why it’s worth conserving species and preserving habitat. Along with the Photo Ark, Sartore has spent many years photographing in the field. Sartore brings us face-to-face with the species that humans have driven to near-extinction. He shows us the consequences of our actions—threatening unique creatures that many have never laid eyes on, nor even heard of—and prompts us to change our ways, lest these documented species disappear permanently.
See more of Joel Sartore’s incredible work at www.joelsartore.com.