The history of conservation photography did not begin with the creation of the iLCP. Although it is true that as a collective of concerned photographers we coined the term and gave the concept new impetus, the idea has been around almost since the advent of the camera.
There is a long legacy in conservation photography that has blazed the trail for the way we currently use photography for environmental advocacy – William Henry Jackson, Ansel Adams and Eliot Porter are among earlier photographers whose advocacy work, in one way or another, translated into the protection of special landscapes. Jackson’s 1871 photographs of Yellowstone, for example, provided the visual argument that convinced legislators to create America’s first national park, and since then, photographers all around the world have used images for advocacy.
How we use conservation photography today demands a higher degree of urgency, as the issues challenging our planet are ever more complex, pressing and devastating. Addressing these issues by simply making pictures and hoping they reach the right audiences is not enough. Photographers today must take on a very active role in finding ways for their images to impact the right people. Sometimes the audience consists of legislators and other decision-makers, others it is made up of influential people whose opinions and recommendations move attitudes; more often than not, we are trying to educate end users, corporations and extractive industries on the impacts of their activities and how to mitigate them. Rarely is the image made by a conservation photographer used as mere entertainment.
Today’s conservation photographers must strive to be visual activists – activism here defined as “the use of strong actions in opposition to or in support of a cause” – because if we fail to be activists, we will inevitably be merely “inactive”. The difference between making great images and making great images that work hard to protect our planet is what really defines conservation photography.
International League of Conservation Photographers
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