A powerful medium as it is, photography has been used to advocate for social and environmental awareness since the early days of its invention. Ansel Adams’ images of wild America were not only visual testimonials of nature’s beauty but also calls for its preservation. As environmental concern grew, so did conservation photography.
What is conservation photography? The Wikipedia entry states, “Conservation photography combines nature photography with the proactive, issue-oriented approach of documentary photography as an agent for protecting nature and improving the biosphere and natural environment. Conservation photography furthers environmental conservation, wildlife conservation, habitat conservation or cultural conservation by expanding public awareness of issues and stimulating remedial action.”
Conservation photography as a discipline is only 10 years old. It was recognized as a stand-alone category in 2005 when Cristina Goettsch Mittermeier defined the term and established the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP). What separates conservation photography from nature photography is the purpose of taking photographs. Photography can be a great tool to give a voice to those who need it most and, in this case, nature is the one that needs to be heard. The goal of conservation photography is to create powerful images of the vanishing beauty of our planet to encourage people to take action in the conservation of nature. As such, this kind of photography is inherently political. It is both art and activism.
Motivated by the continual environmental decline, conservation photographers visualize such issues in order to raise awareness, elicit concerns and emotions and ultimately affect human behavior. Counting that a picture is worth a thousand words, in the hands of conservation photographers it becomes a tool for change. They turn their lenses toward nature with the proactive approach to make images that will “work” toward the protection of the subject they are shooting.
Conservation photography is an art form born of environmental concern and conservation commitment. As conservation challenges continue to grow, the need for this kind of issue-oriented photography is also growing. It becomes instrumental in protecting the environment and saving endangered species from extinction and indigenous people culture from disappearance.