Recently, I began following the Wild Wonders of Europe blog. I've really enjoyed reading past posts from field-contributors, but more importantly, I appreciate the philosophy behind the Wild Wonders of Europe project –or "The Great Quest," as it is known– which recently began in May of 2008.
According to the WWE website, the purpose of the project is:
"to show that Europe really is not about just highways and cities. But today, many seem to know more about nature in Africa or in America, than in Europe, because that is what’s on TV. The European natural wonders are still very little known to the World. We want to change that."
This is very appealing to me for several reasons but primarily because many of Europe's top nature and conservation photographers are exploring their own 'backyards', so-to-speak, in an effort to educate the European (and world) population about the many natural treasures that exist all across their great continent. With the conservation movement's accelerated growth and media coverage, I believe that it is critical that photographers do not fail to acknowledge species' and environments that may not necessarily make a great 'sound-bite', but are none-the-less incredibly important to the eco-system at large. Additionally, I believe that we often get our definition of what is beautiful and amazing from the media and put on blinders to anything else that doesn't fit the description. It is up to us as nature photographers to show the world just how much more is out there beyond 'the tube.' Too often, we become so accustomed to our own native locales that we simply lose the ability to recognize just how special every place in the world really is.
My nature, and ultimately conservation photography efforts really began after my first visit to Australia many years ago now. I have always been passionate about the natural world but after leaving childhood behind, had become visually numb to my surroundings in the Southeastern, U.S. However, after this initial Aussie experience, a fire was rekindled deep down inside of me that hadn't burned so brightly since I was about ten years old. My epiphany came as I stood looking through our kitchen window just after returning home: out of the sky flew a brilliant-red male cardinal that perched on a nearby branch. At that moment, it was as if I was back in the Karri forests of Southwestern Australia watching the crimson rosellas flitting amongst the eucalypts; the beauty was intense and every bit as breath-taking. I began to wonder what else I had been ignoring all this time.
I am very encouraged by, and grateful for, the efforts of organizations such as The International League of Conservation Photographers and the Wild Wonders team. The ILCP, in particular, is making great strides and I truly believe that the organization is destined to really make a difference in our world. Along these lines, it seems to me that many of the world's top nature photographers are moving beyond capturing beautiful images alone. More and more are now shooting for the cause and the results have been astounding.
It is my position that in order for these photographically driven conservation efforts to really be successful, all regions of the world must be recognized & documented. I believe that there will always be a necessity for the big, high profile projects, which create a buzz in the media; bringing much needed attention to the cause of saving species'. Additionally, though, I also strongly believe that more grassroots and more domestic efforts –wherever that may be– need to take place. Everyone has a role to play and I believe that it will take both of these approaches (and more) to turn this momentum towards eliminating large-scale habitat destruction and species loss around the globe. I think that it is potentially dangerous to guide too much of world's attention across the oceans while ignoring what's happening in our own cities and towns. By doing so, many of us, who have the means necessary to make great strides in our own communities may forfeit a chance to make a difference because we harbor feelings that local work isn’t as valid. If we aren't careful, we could potentially end up with a healthy population of cheetahs and chimps but no Rafineque's big-eared bats or green salamanders. I hope that it is obvious that this isn’t my way of saying that I don’t respect the hard work being done to highlight these particular species by many dedicated professionals. I am simply trying to state my belief that all species have a right to be represented, respected and protected regardless of whether or not society as a whole finds them intriguing enough to have their own show on Animal Planet.
As for my photographic efforts, I am dedicated to documenting the Southern Appalachians. Right now, I am primarily focused on the Southern Blue Ridge Escarpment of Northwestern, South Carolina and Western, North Carolina. I believe that I could spend the better portion of my lifetime shooting here and imagine that I probably will. Does it matter that it only takes a 15-minute drive for me to arrive at a place that I consider to be one of the most beautiful in the world instead of a grueling 22-hour plane ride across the Indian Ocean? I don't believe so. As for the rest of the conservation community, they'll have to decide what constitutes a legitimate, conservation photography effortbut I'm very encouraged by the results that seem to be occurring so far. There is much to do and I'm happy to do it!
So, best wishes Wild Wonders of Europe! I’ll be anxiously awaiting the results of your campaign. Hopefully, the rest of the world will as well.