Photographers For Good ~ Cory Wilson

The Photographers for Good series highlights photographers who use their work to make a difference. We look for photographers who produce powerful, stunning and meaningful images and whose work has had an impact on the world around them. We are proud to recognize Cory Wilson as a Photographer for Good for his impressive work on the Transcending Boundaries Series.

We selected Cory for this feature because in addition to his impressive photography on meaningful social and environmental issues – he is also serving as an agent of social change. His work is inspiring and refreshing, and I think that you’ll agree that his attitude and outlook are a little contagious.

Cory Wilson is Director of Collaboration at The Collaborative – a social venture dedicated to providing creative solutions to social entrepreneurs and nonprofit organizations, while simultaneously empowering the next generation of creative professionals focused on social change. Visit The Collaborative to find out more and view recent projects.

Glacier National Park © Cory Wilson

Blackfeet Reservation, Montana © Cory Wilson

Give us a little background about you — how did you get into this kind of photography?

I had one of those classic photography moments. I got my first camera and roll of film from my dad, bought a new one, gave him back his, realized his was better, and stole it again. I was fascinated by it, but I didn’t know what was so intriguing. It took years, until college actually, to realize that I saw photography as a way to explore the world. Through photography, I could study anything and control my distance to the subject. Get in really close, or stay slightly detached and observe. My interest in social issues –from a relatively young age – was a way to use photography to not only try and contribute to our shared future, but also to ensure a livelihood doing what I love.

Why focus on transboundary issues?

Transboundary issues – Transboundary Collaboration, Conflict Resolution, Conservation, etc. – were introduced to me by a close friend and colleague, Todd Walters, at International Peace Park Expeditions. He approached me early on as he was founding IPPE for help with branding and communications. It was through the experience of helping him establish his brand and organization that I was able to dive deeper into the transboundary community. I began to see the interconnectedness of issues surrounding borders of all kinds. The idea of community participation in post-conflict areas suddenly cropped up beyond the borders of the Balkans where we started, to The United States (yes, we’ve had conflict here), and Uganda. The oceans, like our forests and mountains, know no bounds. A transboundary perspective on the interconnected nature of all things political, social, ecological and economic seems essential to our success as a species because it’s based in a reality we can all easily observe.

Can you describe some of the interesting (positive and negative) border/boundary issues that you’ve covered?

People are constantly in conflict over resources, people want their kids to have opportunities, people struggle to overcome generations of bias, and people see clear opportunity across invisible lines. It’s my observation, as someone who’s certainly not an expert in the field, that all the issues I’ve encountered so far are exactly the same in every place I’ve visited, just in different contexts. The relationship between the Blackfeet Nation and the National Parks Services here in the United States/Canada is amazingly similar to the relationship between Ugandans/Congolese and the Ugandan Wildlife Authority/Congolese Wildlife Authority. At the end of the day, they all want the same things. Security for their families, access to healthy resources, a solid education, and a future for their kids.

What were you hoping to achieve with your photos of Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park?

At the end of the day, I was hoping to provide a resource for IPPE as they continue their many conversations and programs around these issues. I was on expedition to film the Transcending Boundaries documentary and challenged myself to photograph everything I filmed, and film everything I photographed. I wanted to authentically represent the situation I was in, the situation I was studying, while also provide a resource for the people I was working with.

Glacier National Park © Cory Wilson

Any special challenges that you encountered?

Projects like this seem to have three big challenges: time, dedication, and technology. In regards to time: It’s about the amount of preparation you do before a trip so you can do your best when you arrive. But it’s also about the time you have on the ground producing a body of work, and finally the time you spend curating all that you’ve done for the people you’re working with. In regards to dedication: It’s all about working as tirelessly as possible. Waking up early for sunrises, staying up late getting the last bit of light and then media managing, charging batteries and hopefully getting some rest before the next day arises. In regards to technology: It’s also about being able to use your resources. Not just having the fanciest camera with the most megapixels or the sharpest glass. It’s about using what you have well, and in a way that affects your surrounding as little as possible. You can’t walk into a remote village with a camera crew and expect everyone to act natural. At the same time, you don’t need the best camera money can buy to film a short documentary, no matter where you hope it will be seen.

How do you prepare for this work?

I do as much homework as I can fit in. I ask a lot of questions from the people around me associated with a given project. After all, they’re the experts. I put myself into the shoes of those who I’m working with so I can understand what their needs are and what they want to communicate. I put myself in the shoes of the subjects of a particular body of work so I can try to understand their situation, no matter what it is.

What gear is in your bag? Favorite pieces.

For this trip, I had my Canon 7D, a 16-35mm, 60mm Macro, 35mm, Zoom H4n, Rhode Shotgun mic, Gitzo tripod w/ a light fluid head, copious amounts of cards, adapters, two external hard drives, a MacBook Pro, Lightroom, Final Cut Pro, and Compressor. And, my moleskin of course.

Do you have a favorite image in the series?

The image of the sky is by far my favorite, and most underrated. It’s the background on my computer, my iPhone, and the centerpiece for whenever we discuss this project. It completely encompasses the idea of transboundary-anything because there are simply no boundaries in the sky. This is a much clearer metaphor then land and even the sea, because people don’t really think about air traffic controllers, or borders extending vertically. We typically think of a border at the edge of some geographic features, or EEZs [exclusive economic zones, *editor’s note] that extend miles off our coasts. But the sky, filled with birds, is a common metaphor for freedom and limitless possibilities. We share the skies freely. They’re not formally argued over anywhere, really. So, for me, that photo says it all.

Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park © Cory Wilson

Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park © Cory Wilson

What are some of your important projects?

I’m really excited by my work with International Peace Park Expeditions and Ashoka. Both organizations are doing some amazing work, and I’m honored to be a part of it. With Ashoka, I’ve helped create a case for the importance of partnerships between Social Entrepreneurs and Multi-National Corporations. We’ve created discussions around Housing and Urban Design, and discussed the role of mobile technology in bringing solutions to the “bottom of the pyramid”. With IPPE, I’ve had the opportunity to create media promoting their programs and academic courses, and travel to the Balkans, Central America, and here in the US.

Any advice for photographers hoping to make a difference?

Yes! Do it, and don’t give up! You have to be dedicated to the work you’re doing, no matter what it is. If you don’t care, it will certainly show in the end. I would encourage you to do your best to understand the organization and people you’re working with, where they’re coming from, and where they are trying to go. Then continually develop that understanding over time. Think of yourself as an extension of their team, not as a freelancer. Build trust by being trustworthy and by showing your true dedication. The non-profit world can benefit greatly from people like us who know how to use various approaches to journalism or advertising effectively. Be authentic, and keep your collaborators the same.

What are you working on now?

Right now, I’m working on a few things. I’m in the middle of editing the second Transcending Boundaries documentary which is focused on the Central Albertine Rift in Uganda/DRC/Rwanda; I’m helping Conservation International edit a series of videos for an upcoming website called the Ocean Health Index; I’m working with Ashoka’s Changemakers to create a video to help launch their new site, Changeshop; and I’m working with Ashoka’s Youth Venture program in New England on some great Case Studies around their approach and successes. It’s all very exciting. Check The Collaborative for updates if you’re interested in seeing them as they arrive.

Thanks for taking the time to speak with me. I am honored to have been asked to participate in this series.

Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park © Cory Wilson

Photographers For Good ~ C.S. Ling and Ethan Lim

The Photographers for Good series highlights photographers who use their work to make a difference. We look for photographers who produce powerful, stunning and meaningful images and whose work has had an impact on the world around them. We are proud to recognize C.S. Ling and Ethan Lim as Photographers for Good for their impressive project to document orangutan conservation efforts in Kalimantan.

13-year old male, Menteng with a fish he caught on Kaja Island. © Ethan Lim

Give us just a little bit of background about you — and how you got into this kind of photography.

Ling: My passion in nature and wildlife has compelled me to want to know more, see more and understand more of the world outside of my immediate surroundings. Coming from a creative background instead of a scientific one, (I’ve been a creative designer/director for the past decade), I find that conservation photography is my key to infuse all my different passions together with a meaningful purpose, and thus i am able do my best and at the same time, make a positive difference in the world with the visual stories I’ve captured.

Ethan: My 16-day solo travel photography trip to Myanmar got me seriously into photography. But it wasn’t until I met C.S. Ling in one of her photography workshops that I got interested in wildlife photography. The opportunity to embark on the To:MOM conservation photography project cemented my interest in wildlife photography and more so, purpose-driven conservation photography to raise awareness about wildlife endangerment.

Why focus on orangutans in Kalimantan?

Ling: I’ve always felt a close affinity with the orangutans ever since 5 years ago when I first visited Borneo with my very first DSLR and have since made more than 10 trips back to capture visual stories of the rich and diverse wildlife there. I can not only see but also feel the similarities between humans and orangutans. Orangutans are the only great ape of Asia and share 96.4% of our DNA markup. As Singaporeans living on the same continent as these majestic great apes, we felt even more compelled to do whatever we can to help safeguard these endangered species, as long as we can make a small positive difference.

Can you describe what’s happening with this issue in  Kalimantan?

Ethan: Orangutans depend on their mothers for the first 7-8 years to learn the necessary skills for survival in the wild. However, they are endangered due to illegal poaching (the killing of orangutan mothers and the selling of orangutan babies through the illegal pet trade) and because of natural habitat destruction (illegal mining, deforestation, and monoculture of oil palm plantation).

How did you prepare for work on your project To:MOM (To My Orangutan Mother)?

Ling: We spent 3 months to prepare for the trip to Borneo Orangtan Survival Foundation Nyaru Menteng while juggling between our full-time jobs in our respective industries. From writing proposals, getting approval from The Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOSF), applying for permits to restricted areas, getting sponsors to support the cause and finally getting our leave time approved. We only had 2 weeks to document the orangutan orphans. Thus, we brought $3000 worth of compact cameras sponsored by Nikon Singapore to donate to BOSF and conducted free photography workshops to 20-30 BOSF staff members so that they can make use of the new cameras to continue documenting the orangutan orphans and raise public awareness through the power of photography. Six months after we returned to Singapore, To:MOM exhibition was staged at one of the biggest shopping malls in Singapore on Mother’s Day 2011.

What were you hoping to achieve with your photo essays of orangutans?

Ling: We can’t understand the orangutans through speech but I find that with visual imagery, we can understand the orangutans. Whether they feel hurt, sad, happy or playful. I want to continue to use photography to forge this connection between humans and animals; that we are all connected as fellow living species on Earth. These visual stories are also important to reach out to the younger generation and educate them to appreciate nature in hopes that as they grow up, they will be concious about the choices they make that will least impact the environment.

Any special challenges that you encountered?

Ethan: Seeing these adorable young orangutan orphans face-to-face for the first time, it was hard not to fall in love and want to hug these young orangutans. However, we immediately understood the cause of the rampant illegal wildlife trading. Young orangutans are pried away from the dead mothers’ bodies (killed by poachers) to be sold on the illegal pet trade. Most orangutan pet owners do not see past the cute adorable faces of the baby orangutan to that of a grown adolescent that is impossible for humans to control. Most of the orangutans thereby live their next few years in cages, boxes or chained up. They are deprived of the chance to learn the necessary skills and knowledge to survive in the wild from their mothers, as such, they will no longer be able to survive in the wild. That is the challenge we face on a daily basis — to respect and remember that the orangutans are not meant to be domesticated; they belong to the wild as their name suggests –orangutan (Person of the Forest).

What’s in your bag?

Collectively, we carry the following for our trips:

  • 4 Nikon Professional DSLR bodies (D700, D3, D3s)
  • 2 Nikon AF VR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6D E
  • 1 Nikon AF Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8D
  • 1 Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED
  • 1 Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED
  • 1 Nikon AF 50mm f/1.4D
  • 1 MacBook Pro
  • 1 MacBook White
  • 2 Gitzo Systematic 6X Carbon Fibre Tripods with gimbal heads
  • 12 SanDisk Extreme Pro CF and SDHC cards
  • SanDisk Extreme FireWire Reader
  • SanDisk ImageMate All-in-One Reader

Occasionally, we bring along the following selection for overseas shoots:

  • NIkon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/4G ED VR
  • Nikon AF-S VR 200-400mm f/4G IF-ED
  • Nikon AF Fisheye 16mm f/2.8D
  • Nikon Teleconverter TC-17E II

Do you have a favorite image from your series?

Ling: One scene that really touched me was a photo I’ve taken of an orangutan named Simona. She was introduced into the semi-wild river island many years back and has successfully given birth to her own baby and at the same time, adopted another baby from an inexperienced orangutan mother and called it her own. Simona’s innate maternal instinct shines through this image as she not only protects her own baby but also the baby of a fellow orangutan to ensure the survival of the species, even though she is an orphan who lost her mother when she was just a baby herself.

Simona, with her babies. © C.S. Ling

Ethan: My favourite image, is that of 13-year old male, Menteng, the dominant male on the semi-wild river island, Kaja island. The primary diet of orangutan consists of tree bark, leaves, fruits, flowers, nectar, honey and occasionally insects for their dietary protein intake. This image shows the highly adaptable nature of Menteng, living on this river island as he is seen catching a fish from the river bank for his consumption. With the dwindling population of wild orangutans due to the adversity of poaching and rapid natural habitat loss, this act of local adaptation speaks very strongly about his ability to survive against all odds as he learn to innovate, improve and adapt.

What are some of your other important projects?

Ling: We are constantly documenting more endangered species of the world and looking at conservation organizations that we can lend our photography expertise and experience to further empower their conservation efforts.

Any advice for wildlife photographers hoping to make a difference?

Ethan: Wildlife photography is enjoyable for photographers as we spend time and effort to capture the beauty of nature’s creations and it helps us to be better able to understand other species outside the human race at the same time. To make a difference, it is important for wildlife photographers to create images and raise awareness, individually or collectively, on the beauty of nature and also the problems that threatens the existence of it. This is purpose-driven conservation photography.

What are you working on now?

Ling: We have since resigned from our full-time jobs and joined forces to create Life List Chase to encourage more people to be in touch with Mother Nature through photography and to educate the young generation of today about the environmental issues that we face now, and more so in the future. For our overseas photo workshops, we make sure that we only work with eco-friendly local guides and operators to reduce any potential environmental impacts and we use paper from sustainable sources that are FSC- or PEFC-certified for our photo exhibitions, name cards, etc. In this concrete jungle that we live in, many of us have lost touch with nature. Thus, being green is not something that most city dwellers would think about and most do not understand why we have to be environmental-friendly even though we keep hearing about how to be green (turn off electricity when not in use, recycle paper, reduce use of plastic bags etc.)

The most important thing for us to do now is to first BE IN NATURE and learn to appreciate it. Take a slow walk in the garden; breathe the fresh morning air to de-stress; head out there and photograph the flora and fauna and see for yourself how beautiful yet fragile nature is and how we are all connected. That’s the reason why we have to conserve what we have on earth (the one and only home we have) in order for earth to continue to be able to provide for us. At Life List Chase, we endeavor to empower environmental/wildlife conservation and education through photography.

Photographers For Good ~ Andrew “Harry” Harrington

The Photographers for Good series highlights photographers who use their work to make a difference. We look for photographers who produce powerful, stunning and meaningful images and whose work has had an impact on the world around them. We are proud to recognize Andrew “Harry” Harrington as a Photographer for Good.

Barabaig youth herding cattle, Tanzania

How did you get interested in being behind the lens?

I’ve been taking pictures since I was 8 years old, when I took a picture of a tree that I thought was really good. Basically I’ve been chasing that feeling ever since. I’ve only ever been interested in wildlife and conservation issues. We, as westerners, are very lucky to be alive right now, but what we do now will decide how the world turns out. I try to tell stories that inform people about what their options are.

Why focus on the conflict between people and lions in Tanzania?

Lions in Africa are in trouble — numbers have fallen from 450,000 in the 1940’s to around 20,000 today. However, there is still a good chance that if something clever is done to enable lions and people to live together that lions can have a future. If the conflict can’t be mitigated, in around 30 or 40 years time, lions will only exist in the very big national parks, which will cause all sorts of problems with inbreeding. The project I am taking pictures of is trying to find ways to allow people and lions to live together with less conflict and to increase the benefits of lions to local people. The project is based in Tanzania’s Ruaha landscape (an area that is globally important for large carnivores) and focuses on the lions in the area (the Ruaha landscape is thought to support nearly 10% of sub-Saharan Africa’s remaining lions). There are going to be 9 billion people in the world soon and if the world’s going to be worth living in we need to learn to live with wildlife. Lions are the ultimate ‘problem animal’ so focusing on them will hopefully point towards ways of living with other animals. Also I really, really like lions.

Ngamo male 69 walking

Lion at night

Can you describe what’s happening for folks who might not know anything about the issue?

There has always been conflict between cattle herders and lions but as the population of Tanzania soars, the lions have less human-free space and encounter cattle more often. Often children of around ten will be left in charge of the cattle for the day, which means the lions have little to fear. The lions also occasionally kill people. The Masai and Barabaig love their cattle (its more than just a cow, it’s status: a Ferrari and a Rolex and a big house) and when a cow is killed, the owners will often poison the carcass, killing not only lions but hyenas and vultures along with anything else that eats the carcass. Sometimes they will hunt a lion with spears. As much as I like lions you can appreciate that when your livelihood is affected, and your family in danger, you want some sort of recompense.

What were you hoping to achieve with your photo essays of people and lions in Tanzania?

It’s very hard to cut through the noise of people’s lives nowadays but ideally I hope that a few very rich people would look at this and be interested in funding this project in the long term. If anyone out there would like to help please visit the Ruaha Carnivore Project. The project runs a lot of video nights for the local population, trying to make friends and explain some better husbandry methods. A lot of my pictures and videos will be used for this. This autumn I’ll be in the park taking pictures of lions. The lion’s whisker spots can be used for identification, which will help the project follow the lions inside and outside the park.

Masaii woman in wedding dress

Masaii herding cattle, Tanzania.

Any special challenges that you encountered?

I love working in Africa. This project is a little different for me being outside a national park so the wildlife is less visible and I’m on foot a lot more which can be a little twitchy sometimes. I’ve been jogging to get ready for this but since my first trip out there it seems that sprinting and climbing trees is what I should be doing. Neither of which are things I’m very good at.

What’s in your bag?

I’ve always used Nikon gear, and for this project I’m trying to travel as light as possible. My main camera for the people pictures is a D300s with a 17-55mm, though I will get a 35mm 1.8 for when I’m running. Most of the time I’m also using a flash. I have a 200-400mm lens for the wildlife. My bag also holds my Mac and a few hard drives, a mic and recorder.

Do you have a favorite image from your series?

So far I’ve made one trip to Ruaha, just getting to know people and looking around. I have spent some time out herding, which has been such fun. I imagine that little has changed — people have done this over the last 1000 years, although nearly everyone has a mobile phone nowadays. One of the people I spent time with was Esta, a Barabaig girl dressed in copper bracelets and necklace, who was lovely and for a while was holding a friend’s spear.

Barabaig people herding cattle, Tanzania.

What are you working on now?

I am currently working on planning the next two trips out to Tanzania. If anyone is interested in commissioning these trips please get in touch. In the UK, I’m working on fox hunting and oak trees.

Spice Girl cubs Spice Girl 95 in back

Photographers For Good ~ Malin Fezehai

The Photographers for Good series highlights photographers who use their work to make a difference. We look for photographers who produce powerful, stunning and meaningful images and whose work has had an impact on the world around them. We are proud to recognize Malin Fezehai as a Photographer for Good.

View of the island of Abaiang, one of 33 low lying islands of Kiribati. The average height above sea level for the island is less than 3 meters. ©Malin Fezehai

Tell us a little about yourself and your photography.

I started doing photography when I was in high school and I was just taking pictures of my friends. It was the first thing I ever felt that I was good at. When I was 19 years old I packed my bags and went to New York to attend the International Center of Photography. Since then I have traveled and worked in places like Ethiopia, Peru, Sri Lanka, Ghana, and Brazil. My work has focused on marginalized children and the displacement of communities due to poverty, war and climate change. When I go somewhere I try to stay a minimum of two months if possible because I like spending time getting to know the place I am photographing.

What’s in your bag?

My camera bag is always packed with my Canon 7D, two batteries, three lenses, two fixed, one zoom, a sound recorder (Zoom H4n) and a spider tripod. I travel with as little as possible but on my travels I always bring my laptop and a good airplane pillow. I also never leave home without a couple reliable hard drives.

Tell us a bit about your work in Kiribati.
Kiribati is a small island nation of 33 atolls spread out in the South Pacific; the area is the size of Alaska but the amount of land could fit within Manhattan. The average height above sea level is about 2 meters and this makes the island very vulnerable to rising sea levels. During my time there I found many destroyed homes and learned that families had to build makeshift sea walls to protect their houses. As a result of the rising seawater, food crops are much smaller and water wells are being contaminated. At the same time the islanders are dealing with the same issues of globalization as the rest of the world: overpopulation, waste disposal and rising number of diabetes cases due to the increase in consumption of imported foods. A once isolated society is now trying to figure out how to adapt to the new problem of climate change while continuing to grapple with globalization, both of which are transforming the way of life and culture across the region.

Boy jumping in the water from the causeway that separates the lagoon from the ocean on the island of Tarawa. ©Malin Fezehai

Island of Tarawa. A landfill in the village of Nanikai, it'€™s one of two landfills on the island that has been constructed in an attempt to manage the island’s growing garbage disposal problems. The amount of disposable solid waste is increasing as lifestyles and consumption patterns in Tarawa has changed to Western ways, with increasing levels of non-biodegradable materials such as cans, bottles and plastics. The usual methods of disposal are dumping on the seashores result in polluted waterways and lagoons. ©Malin Fezehai

Why is what’s happening in this tiny island nation relevant to folks around the world?

“Climate refugee” is a new term of our time, and there are a growing number of people who are being displaced due to climate change and natural disasters. A report by Oxfam last year predicted that 75 million people in the Asia-Pacific region will be forced to relocate by 2050 if climate change continues unabated. What is specific to the islands in the South Pacific is that the options for migration is very limited, that is why I think their story is so important and should be told. It’s a region of small nations with very little political capital on the world stage. The question that remains unresolved is who takes responsibility for these people. I do think that public awareness about climate change has grown, but I don’t think that people fully understand the mass migration that is underway and that’s why I think the situation in Kiribati is very relevant to rest of the world.

Iataake Totoki is the assisting agriculture officer on the island of Abaiang. He says that he intends to move to either New Zealand or Australia, because of climate change. "€œThe higher we go the better." He says that most people here don't want to leave Kiribati but if they know what is going to happen they will want to leave as well. According to him, it's mostly educated people that fully understand the situation. ©Malin Fezehai

In the village of Eita there used to be a sea wall constructed to protect the village. It has now been destroyed by rising tides and is threatening homes on the island of Tarawa. ©Malin Fezehai

What was it like to be shooting in a place that really might no longer exist in a very short time?

Kiribati by itself is pretty surreal, because when you are standing in Tarawa (the capital) you see the ocean on one side and the lagoon on the other, and I just felt kind amazed at how people have lived on these small plots of land for generations. What you have to keep in mind though, is that the end of Kiribati won’t come as a single engulfing wave. Over a period of decades, the 33 atolls of Kiribati will be rendered uninhabitable by flooding, which will ruin homes and the small patches of arable land, poison drinking water, spread disease and drown the fragile economy. So it’s a gradual process.

Island of Abaiang. Fallen coconut tree -- a result of rising seas and lands erosion. ©Malin Fezehai

Mangrove trees in the village of Buota. Mangroves trees can grow in salty coastal habitats in the tropics and subtropics. The planting of mangrove trees is a strategy by the government to try to hold the soil in place. ©Malin Fezehai

What were some of the challenges of photographing in Kiribati?

There weren’t any major challenges, if I would name a few it would be means of communications, like cell phones and internet were not the best, getting ahold of people was a little bit of a challenge, but I would just show up at their doorstep. The roads, when I was there, had been washed away because of the increase of rainfall, many of the buses were just falling apart because they couldn’t handle all the potholes, so getting from place to place was pretty time consuming. On the outer islands the was no electricity with the exception of one generator that was on for two hours, so charging my gear and dumping my cards was a bit tricky.

On the island of Abaiang. A broken seawall in the village of Tebunginako. The government came to the conclusion that they could no€™t sustain the seawall and that relocation would be the better option. ©Malin Fezehai

Island of Abaiang. A village called Tebunginako has had to relocate because of rising seas and land erosion. This is a former fresh water lagoon that is now inundated with sea water which is killing the coconut trees. When a coconut tree dies, the decay starts at the top. First the fruit falls and then the leaves. All that is left is a desiccated trunk, cut off at half-mast. In the front, mangrove trees have been planted as a strategy by the government to try to hold the soil in place. ©Malin Fezehai

Anything else we should know about the island and the people?

One thing I think people should know about people in Kiribati is that they love their island and their way of life. It’s a very family orientated culture and I met very few people that expressed that wanted to leave. A woman I met told me a story about her daughter that was at the American embassy in Fiji to apply for a student visa to Hawaii. She was picked out of the line right away and got her approval, and they said to her “you guys from Kiribati always go back”.

What are you working on now?

I am working on a documentary I shot in Kiribati, but it’s on a slightly different subject matter. It’s about this dance group called “Miss July” comprised of a group of cross-dressing men living on the island. I was so impressed by their courage to express their femininity through dance considering that Kiribati is a very religious society. But because they are better dancers than most women, the majority of people on the island accepted them. When I was there I filmed many of their performances and I promised them I would make a film about them. Lately I have been working on more video projects as well as film editing.

If funding was not a problem and you could work on any project for a year, what would it be?

I would continue photographing in other countries in the South Pacific like Solomon Islands that has become the first country in the Pacific region, and one of four countries in the world, to qualify for a special international fund for projects that help nations gear up for climate-related changes, and in the Marshall Islands that has already lost up to 20 percent of its beachfront. On another note though, there are also several projects I want to do in parts of Africa as well, including a short film I would like to shoot in Massawa Eritrea, in the home country of my father.

A little girl playing in a tree on the island of Tarawa. ©Malin Fezehai

Photographers For Good ~ Emerging: Ashley Patterson

The Photographers for Good series highlights photographers who use their work to make a difference. We look for both master and emerging photographers who produce powerful, stunning and meaningful images and whose work has had an impact on the world around them. This week, we are proud to recognize Ashley Patterson with the Photographers for Good feature.

Ashley Patterson of Skyward Images in Kentucky is an Emerging Photographer For Good. Inspired by her own difficult life events, Ashley established the sTRUTT festival in 2010 to both raise awareness for the arts and to raise funds for a cause. The proceeds go to The Dream Factory, a non-profit organization that grants last wishes for children suffering from critical or chronic illnesses. This year, sTRUTT will take place: March 31, 2011 in Bardstown, KY and April 21, 2011 in Louisville, KY.

What was the inspiration for sTRUTT?

The sTRUTT format was inspired by my background in art and performing arts. I graduated from YPAS (Youth Performing Arts School ) and Manual (which had a great visual arts program. I was exposed to a great deal of art at a very impressionable age, and that led to a lifelong passion for all things art. The town that I live in now is a very small country town, and there is a major lack of arts out here, and that is why I produce sTRUTT as a performance art and visual art show.

The reason that I do sTRUTT for the Dream Factory is to support the families that go through such tough circumstances and battle illnesses. My youngest son has battled pulmonary diseases his whole life, and my family has been through a lot, so I can empathize with them.

Tell us a little about the festival. Why is it such a big deal?

The goal is to grant 2 dreams this year. This is the 2nd year for sTRUTT but the first for many things. The first to be in 2 cities, the first for the Dream Factory, the first to have a movie made about it. The first…(this could go on and on you can read more in the blog www.skywardfoto.com)

Any major lessons learned? Big catastrophes?

Trying to start something brand new sounds glamorous, but it is very difficult. The people in my town are fantastic, but they don’t have a lot of arts our here so they ask me “why?” and well, my answer is “why not?” It is also a tough time for a lot of people and so it has been a challenge to get sponsorships.

Why focus on The Dream Factory as your charity of choice?

As I mentioned, my little boy has battled illness, and has literally fought for his little life. I know what it feels like to be helpless. So now I want to feel helpful.

We love photographers who give back … why is it an important part of your ethos?

Ok, I had to look up Ethos LOL. Giving back is more like paying it forward. You always reap a far greater reward than you invest. Always.

How can other photographers follow your lead in giving back?

Just do it … Life is short. We have to make time for the things that are important for us. My studio opens late every Tuesday so I can read to kids who need a little one-on-one help. I have been rewarded with the heartwarming friendships that I have with my “Partners with Primary”.

I never would have guessed that they would grab ahold of my heart like that. Especially if you are in a rough spot. When you are really down and out – what can pull you out faster than anything else- is to help someone else. It’s as easy as smiling at a stranger, or letting the lady behind you with a pack of gum go in front of you at the checkout line. Last week I was at the store and there was a lady in a wheelchair looking at the apples next to me, so I asked her if I could hand her anything, and she said to me ” You are the first person in 15 years to ever ask me that.” I found that to be very sad. We can all do something to make the world better, and the little things add up to be big things. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me Photocrati- your sites rock :)

Photographers For Good ~ Masters: Michael “Nick” Nichols

The Photographers for Good series highlights photographers who use their work to make a difference. We look for photographers who produce powerful, stunning and meaningful images and whose work has had an impact on the world around them. We are proud to recognize Michael “Nick” Nichols as a Master Photographer for Good.

Michael “Nick” Nichols is one of the world’s top environmental and wildlife photographers. Nick joined National Geographic as a staff photographer in 1996, and in 2008 became National Geographic’s photography editor at large. Aside from being an incredible photographer, Nick is an ardent conservationist and shares a deep passion for wild places. We are honored to share his thoughts here on Photocrati.

You’ve done some big and impactful projects – the Megatransect Project and the Zoo project come to mind. What past projects are you most proud of and why?

Mountain Gorillas, a story I shot with Geo Magazine in 1980, helped me discover that my images can do more than entertain. They can help protect wildlife and wild places. These particular images illustrated the beginning of eco-tourism, or how a charismatic animal like a mountain gorilla could save an entire ecosystem because people want to see that animal living in its natural environment. This story also lead to my first book with Aperture.

From 1995-1997, I spent two years with tigers in India. This was a time when the conservation community was dabbling with saving animals using technology: captive breeding, artificial insemination and other processes like that. The story was published in December 1997 and clearly shows that the best way to create a wild tiger that eats deer and pigs (and not humans) is to let it be raised by a wild mother. She will teach her young all the things tigers need to know. Most importantly: to fear humans and not to eat humans.

The Megatransect project introduced me to wild elephants. Those elephants feared me since they had always known humans as poachers and killers. In recent years, I’ve done 4 projects on wild elephants with the idea in mind that if apes are our closest genetic relatives, then elephants are our closest spiritual relatives. The images that we made on the Megatransect (NGM 10/00, 3/01, 8/01), in Zakouma National Park in Chad (NGM 3/07), the Samburu National Reserve in Kenya (NGM 9/08) and then now of the Elephant Orphans (to be published in NGM 9/11) in Kenya show elephants in all stages from unprotected and fearful (Megatransect and Zakouma) to safe, happy and loving (Samburu) to heartbroken and orphaned (Elephant Orphans).

And lastly, I’m very proud of the big trees we’ve been photographing. The redwood composite was originally published as a 5 page foldout in the magazine in October of 2009. But I only realized that we had succeeded when it was printed 60 feet tall and displayed in a French cathedral in the fall of 2010.

Looking at the 60 ft (18 meter) print of a Redwood Tree at Visa Pour L'Image. Perpignan, France. ©Michael Nichols, National Geographic

I could see people worshipping the tree, that they really understood that trees are the pillars of our environment. We can use trees to teach people how to respect the earth. I’ve just photographed another great tree in a snow storm which will be published sometime in 2012.

Can you share some of your favorite images and tell us what went into making them and why you like them?

A silverback known as Mrithi moves a bit - and blurs his portrait into art. Adult males can reach nearly six feet in height and 400 pounds in weight, with an arm span of eight feet. Adult females may weight 200 pounds. Size and fierce mien belie a largely gentle nature. Prize winning, award winning photo--this gorilla photo won the New York Art Directors Award. ©Michael Nichols, National Geographic

I was shooting kodachrome 64 on a black animal in a dark forest and the image is hand held at 1/2 second with a 200 mm lens. Its ridiculous but it works to capture the mystery of the ape.

With feline grace abandoned, Bachi takes her picture by breaking an infared beam at an unmanned remote-camera site in Bandhavgarh. Sweltering 120-degree heat, she seeks relief in a pool, despite its fetid brew of rotting leaves and monkey urine. A daughter of Sita, she has outgrown her name; Bachi means "female child" in Hindi. ©Michael Nichols, National Geographic

I had been playing around with camera traps, the tiger is perfectly suited for it because they need to drink water on a regular basis and they live in a habitat where water is scarce at times so that gives you the natural bait that you need for a camera trap. All of that is just technique, what makes the picture is the cat. The tiger made a very cat-like self portrait that still resonates to this day.

Security and learning are crucial to elephant society. On the savannas of Samburu, infants in family groups get vigilant protection from females functioning almost as a council of mothers. Adolescents tussle amiably, developing social skills as well as confidence and strength. ©Nick Nichols, National Geographic

After years of photographing elephants I couldn’t approach, all of a sudden I’m working so close to them.

At least 1,500 years old, a 300-foot titan in California's Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park has the most complex crown scientists have mapped. ©Michael Nichols, National Geographic

The tree image is the ultimate team photograph, more like making a movie than a photographer wandering around by himself. It took a couple of years of thinking about it and then was truly a collaborative effort between me, a rope rigging and climbing team, my camera assistant and a technical guru who actually stitched all the images together. I was the director, when we were there actually making the picture I was called “excess baggage.” I like it because it represents nature in a form that I never thought I could capture in a photograph. It goes way beyond even representing trees.

You’ve been called the Indiana Jones of Photography … does that title fit?

It was fun when I was young. Now it feels sort of like the last movie that they made.

You’ve said that you’re bored by “beautiful wildlife” photos. What do you mean by that?

Because I came to photography as a photojournalist and I never set out to be a wildlife photographer, I’ve always thought that taking pretty pictures of animals is self indulgent. This applies to my own photography, not for others who enjoy doing it. I just personally need to be telling stories. Everything on this earth is endangered or in trouble, the beautiful image can be misleading. But I think the tree picture I made is beautiful, but that isn’t its only purpose. Sometimes you have to go back to beauty to get the point across.

A lot has changed in the past decade for photographers. How have new technologies and mediums impacted the way you work?

I was fighting digital photography kicking and screaming because of ethical concerns, but it has proven to be a real boon to creativity. For years I worked in low ISOs, limited tonal range and I could only get 36 pictures without having to stop and reload. Digital photography frees us. I can now see my camera trap images right after they are made so I can make adjustments in the field. My original ones I couldn’t see for many months until the film was developed back home so I couldn’t do that. I can shoot very publishable pictures by moonlight. I can photograph subjects in the dark without having to disturb them or announce my presence with a flash. The tree image wouldn’t have been possible without the current technology of stitching and blending multiple images together in Photoshop. I am about to embark on a new assignment on Lions which is all based on what I can do with current technology. It has impacted everything.

What is the most challenging thing about the kind of photography that you do?

I couldn’t do the work that I have done without my patron, National Geographic. Getting to be one of their guys didn’t happen overnight, I come from a small town in Alabama, I had no connections, but it was very much a long range plan of mine to work for NG. I knew that there, I could work on projects that I could allow to consume me and I would have the resources to make the pictures I wanted to make and plus the audience to view the images after they were published. Whats hard about it is that it takes long range planning, long term focus, and being away from home for months at a time. None of my work is wandering around with a camera, its all takes a lot of planning and research. But on a personal level, I still like to wander around alone with a camera.

What are you working on now?

I’ve just finished another giant tree portrait in the Sierra Nevadas in 10 feet of snow. I have a beautiful essay on Elephant Orphans to be published in the September issue of National Geographic and I’m starting a “Living with Lions” project which will not be published until 2013 and will be my last big project.

If not a photographer, what would you want to be?

Since I was 19 when I decided to be a photographer, that is all I’ve ever thought about. I fantacize about some other things (if you really want to know I would have liked to be a member of The Rolling Stones, the greatest rock and roll band of all time) but that is all. I don’t use video, I still just concentrate on the rectangle of a still photograph because I feel like any distraction would take me away from the focus that is needed. As you become successful in one thing, its important to stay focused because a distraction can weaken your work maybe without you even knowing it.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’ve been contacted by many people interested in purchasing prints of the photos featured in this interview. If you would like a signed print by Michael “Nick” Nichols, please contact Jenna Pirog at: jenna@michaelnicknichols.com. Thank you!

Also — if you’re a fan, be sure to “LIKE” Michael “Nick” Nichols’ Facebook page!