Photography inspires me. Ever since I picked up my first National Geographic magazine and flipped through the colorful pages portraying the world around us I was inspired. Inspired to see more of this world. Inspired to learn about nature. Inspired to pick up a camera. Inspired to tell a story.
Cristina Mittermeier came to campus on Tuesday, March 27, to talk about her work as a conservation photographer and the power of water. Her talk, “Standing on the Water’s Edge” was hosted by Convocations and Lectures and Kappa Pi Zeta. Mittermeier has had much of her work published in magazines such as National Geographic and Science and Nature. She was recently named one of the World’s Top 40 Most Influential Outdoor Photographers by Outdoor Magazine and was given the honor of National Geographic’s 2018 Adventurer of the Year.
It is work like that of Mittermeier that continues to inspire me. Through her lens she captures the most remote to the most familiar areas along the coastline that we can learn much from. Her passion for nature and how we as people are connected to it has driven her to document the lives of people who rely on water sources. From rivers, to sea ice, to oceans, Mittermeier shows us what it is like “Standing on the Water’s Edge.”
There are one billion people who live within a kilometer of the sea. These people are often affected by the ever-changing climate and by the decisions of others. Mittermeier took us on a journey through the Amazon, across the ice of Greenland, and to the coast of British Columbia to show why we need conservation photography.
Mittermeier’s own journey started in Mexico where she grew up with her family. She was inspired to go to college to get a degree in marine biology. This turned out to be a degree in fishery and agriculture and she was introduced to the horrors of commercial fishing. Learnin about the fishing industry caused her to become passionate about conservation and she was soon hired by Conservation International. If it had not been for her education in marine biology, Mittermeier may have never pointed her lens to the sea.
Photography is an incredible way of getting people passionate about our changing climate. While we need scientists on the forefront, scientific papers aren’t read by many outside the community and people like to argue about everything they read. Numbers and facts don’t mean much to people when they can find their own evidence to refute the statistics. It’s much harder to argue with a photograph.
You see it and you simply feel. With photography we can convey how our climate is changing and we can show what is happening to our waterways and the people who depend on them.
Mittermeier’s journey showed us the potential consequences of misusing our waterways. Her first assignment was to document the Kayapo people of the Amazon who rely heavily on the Xingu river for food, water and travel. Sixty new dams were proposed to be built across Amazon rivers which would affect 4,500 indigenous people. Three of these would cause the roaring river that gives the Kayapo people life to be diminished to a trickle. A change like this would be devastating.
Mittermeier was faced with the task of capturing what building the dams could mean. Through these fleeting moments she found her passion and vowed to always do what she believed in. Pressure from the people led to a change in government that caused the plans for all sixty dams to be suspended. The people had won.
Mittermeier’s photos showed us the unique bond that people have with nature, from the Inuit of Greenland, who use the sea ice to hunt and sustain themselves, to the outcry of the people of the Tla’amin First Nation British Columbia who are protesting fish farms operating in their waters. Water affects each and every single one of us and we should stand alongside those who are at risk of losing their water sources.
It is passion that drives photography. Without this passion there would be no story to tell, and the photo would not leave an impact. We have all seen images that stick with us. Conservation photography has the power to change the way we see this world, and to change how we treat it.
“I am very inspired by the potential I see in the future,” said Mittermeier. “I am also inspired for the need. There is a huge need and someone has to stand up for.”
And she is right. We can stand to better this world or we can fall with it. Mittermeier described her passion for photography as being a “sixth sense” or a “superpower” to see these issues that we must stand up for. She explained “somebody has to do it. This is what I’m going to do until I die.”
Cristina left us with a simple sentiment: Mikomre: “I am accountable to you. I’m doing my part.” So mikomre. I hope that you will do your part as well.
Photo contributed by Redlands Bulldog photographer, Caillie Roach.