It was 2006 and I was ready for a change. I declared – out loud – that I was determined to earn a living with my camera. I had always been a huge fan of Ansel Adams as one of the earliest names I recognized in the field of nature photography. That was the dream. The reality was a job taking pictures of 10s of thousands of houses for a real estate appraisal database. Okay, I was outside with a camera in hand. This wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but at least it was a start. I had mixed emotions about my newly declared career path. I was indeed earning a living with my camera, but I wasn’t exactly meandering through the backcountry of the National Parks I loved so dearly. It wasn’t until I had a chance encounter with a photography exhibit that I stopped doubting my path and looking forward to what might be.
I was invited to a wine tasting in a very old San Francisco hotel. While wandering the corridors with my glass of riesling, I can across a very old set of photographs depicting the hotel decades earlier when it was truly in its heyday. At the end of the exhibit of historical photos, I discovered a plack with some information about when these photos were shot and who was holding the camera. It was none other than Ansel Adams. Architectural photography was where he got his start – it’s what paid the bills. And just like that, I was feeling more at ease with my camera-powered paychecks. If he could transition from earning a living photographing architecture to making pictures in nature, why not me?
Just a few short years later, I landed a job at one of the world’s most respected science museums – The California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. My time volunteering and eventually working for the National Park Service had shown me that environmental education was something I enjoyed tremendously. So I worked my way into the education division at this museum where I could design and deliver educational programs to engage people with the natural world. After a year on the job, I asked my boss if I could create a photography program for the community. And she said, “as long as it meets the museum’s mission statement, I don’t see why not.” She asked me to put together a pitch on what the program would look like and how it would match our mission.
I could see that many people who loved the natural world, also loved to take their cameras with them into nature. And by a very happy coincidence, one of my colleagues sent me an email about a nature photographer who had just made a short documentary defining conservation photography. I watched the video, read up about the photographer, and looked into some of the organizations he was working with, and I quickly realized that I had found my theme for the Academy’s new photography program. We would develop a program where people could interact with the natural world and help give voice to the natural world.
What is “Conservation Photography,” you ask. That’s the exact same question my boss asked me as I began my pitch. Conservation Photography is about making images of the natural world for the natural world. It’s about storytelling with images and giving voice to the natural world. The action of the conservation photographer doesn’t end with the click of the shutter, it actually begins at that moment. What we do with the images, to effect change and inspire others to love and care for the planet, is what really matters.