|Benjamin Drummond / Sara Joy Steele|
News from BDSJS and Facing Climate Change
I recently made a traverse of Ghana to expand an image library for Conservation International. We have been helping to tell the story of the Vital Signs monitoring network since its inception as a pilot project in Tanzania in 2011. The network will soon monitor agriculture, nature and human well-being in six African countries with plans for expansion to other parts of Africa and the globe. Conservation International, along with CSIR and Columbia University, is leading the initiative with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. (Watch our short introductory video.)
Our past work had focused on farmers and fieldwork in East Africa and, with Ghana coming online, the program needed new images that chronicled the culture, landscapes and team members in West Africa. Over 10 days I traversed from Accra in southern Ghana to the hot and dry cattle country of the north and back to make images of farmers, livestock, food and ecosystem services.
One major challenge Ghana faces is mineral extraction, particularly from unregulated gold mines. In addition to large multinational digs, the landscape is littered with small, illegal operations that have a significant impact on fresh water sources. I spent some time photographing a group of young men digging gravel out of such a site in central Ghana. They were understandably nervous about my presence but Dr. Anthony Duah, the director of Vital Signs Ghana, quickly put their fears to rest and I was soon splattered in mud like everyone else.
The University of Washington’s College of the Environment has 11 schools and departments that bring together a wide swath of the University’s natural science subjects from fisheries, forests and atmospheric sciences, to environmental policy and more. For prospective graduate students interested in interdisciplinary topics like climate change, conservation or resource management, cutting across these academic silos is increasingly important.
Together with Darin Reid at Elegant Contraption, we helped the College build an all-new website that celebrates the people, synergies and collaborative opportunities at the College. A core component of the project is an interactive directory that profiles all 200 faculty members. A searchable and sortable grid of faces displays everyone working on any of 13 cross-disciplinary research themes such as freshwater, climate or conservation.
We needed a cohesive series of portraits of all faculty members to make the directory effective. During three visits over the last year, Sara and I set up a small studio in the University’s “Halibut Garage” to make 200 10-minute portraits. It felt a bit like we were speed-dating professors, but we had a blast working with some familiar faces and getting to know new ones in this amazing academic community.
We’ve been working with Darin Reid at Elegant Contraption to build the website for the new Luc Hoffman Institute. Based in Gland, Switzerland, the Institute is a project of WWF designed to bring researchers, stakeholders and WWF experts together to find evidence-based solutions to tough conservation problems. Explore luchoffmanninstitute.org to learn more.
Conservation International just launched a complete redesign of their web presence and we’re excited to see so many of our images from Tanzania, Uganda, Ghana, Peru and Malaysia featured in the visually rich design. Explore it at conservation.org
Sara and I recently had the honor of speaking with students at the University of Colorado-Boulder over Skype. We joined a group of seniors that were participating in an initiative called Inside the Greenhouse that explores climate change communication in the media and the arts. The students of ENVS 3100 had watched our Facing Climate Change stories as well as some of our work for Conservation International’s TEAM Network, and we shared with them our path from college and thoughts about how to get started telling stories for a cause.
A big thanks to Max Boykoff and Beth Osnes for the invitation. They’ve put together an amazing program and we both wish we could take the course!
How can we feed 9.6 billion people and sustain the nature we need?
Feeding the growing world population will require a 70 to 100 percent increase in food production through agricultural intensification. But the reality is that no country can achieve this goal if it doesn’t also work to sustain nature – the healthy soils, pollinators, fresh water and forests on which both agriculture and farmers depend.
Vital Signs is a monitoring system for agriculture, nature and human well-being. The system is initially launching in six African countries – Tanzania, Ghana, Uganda, Mozambique, Rwanda and Ethiopia – with plans for expansion to other parts of Africa and the globe. Conservation International, along with CSIR and Columbia University, is leading the initiative with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The challenge was to show the project in action, even though protocols were still under development and on-the-ground data collection had yet to start. However, the training activities offered us the opportunity to capture visuals that both showcase the methods and illustrate how lots of leg work in the field can lead to globally significant data. In the film we also utilized food and farming photographs from an earlier trip to the region.
We are grateful for the talented team of collaborators we brought together for post-production. To visualize the geographic and remote-sensing data we worked with Félix Pharand-Deschênes and Rémi Lortie of Globaïa. They are experts at creating beautiful renders of large data sets and satellite imagery. The Vital Signs icons were drawn by Hyperakt, and our frequent collaborator in all things music, Nick Drummond, wrote and recorded the score. All motion graphics were done in-house.
In December, the Vital Signs film premiered at the World Economic Forum’s Summit on the Global Agenda in Dubai.
Our friends at the University of Washington College of the Environment are launching a new program to change the face of conservation. The Doris Duke Foundation is helping the UW to start a multi-summer, undergraduate immersion-learning program with a vision of creating a more diverse and inclusive community of conservation professionals. Once the grant was secured, an immediate challenge was to quickly recruit the first cohort of undergraduates for this summer’s program and an accessible and visually compelling website was key to their outreach efforts.
We worked with Darin Reid of Elegant Contraption to build the recruitment site. Our task was to illustrate a series of 11 provocative questions such as:
Why does human diversity matter to biodiversity?
Who bears the brunt of environmental disasters?
Can food production and biodiversity coexist? Which would you choose?
We paired each question with an image from our archives or from local photographers Daniel Beltrá and Tom Reese. To put a face to these future leaders, we also made black and white portraits of UW students and faculty members who represent this growing community.
(Refresh the page to load a new set of images.)
Applications for the 2014 program are due January 31, 2014. Help spread the word!
We spent a good chunk of last summer in dark little rooms in the Midwest, interviewing some of the leading ecologists and environmental scientists in the country. It was captivating work and an immense privilege to sit down for an hour conversation with this group of people. We’ll have lots more to share about the two projects that are currently in production. For now, we’ll post an image from the Ecological Society of America’s annual meeting last August in Minneapolis. Below Sara interviews Jane Lubchenco, who until recently, headed up NOAA for the Obama administration.
Sara and I also filmed at, and participated in, Nancy Baron’s COMPASS communications training for this year’s Leopold Leadership Fellows. Each year’s Fellows dedicate a year to learning how to take a leadership role in turning science into policy and communicating their work to non-academic audiences. As we did for a training in Tanzania in 2011, we joined an amazing group of journalists including Christopher Joyce from NPR (below), Cornelia Dean from the New York Times, Mark Fischetti from Scientific American, and Lisa Johnson from the CBC.
Stay tuned for more!
The Wild and Scenic Film Festival is returning to Nevada City, California this January 9-12 and we’re honored that Badru’s Story will be in this year’s line up. Last year, we premiered four Facing Climate Change films at the festival and were swept away by the whirlwind of great films, presentations, and new friends. It’s a weekend not to be missed!
Badru’s Story will screen at 9 p.m. on Saturday night at the Miners Foundry in Stone Hall. After the festival our short will be included in the Wild and Scenic Tour that will visit over 100 venues across the country.
Earlier this month, Badru’s Story also screened at McMurdo Station in Antarctica as part of the Mountainfilm World Tour. A big thanks to our friends at North Cascades Mountain Hostel for hosting the tour stop.
Benj has been volunteering with fellow Blue Earth Board members Jason Houston and Gary Hawkey, along with Whitney Johnson, photo editor at The New Yorker, to design the first of a series of portfolio books featuring the work of Blue Earth projects. The 80-page volume showcases social and environmental work by Matt Black, Samantha Box, Garth Lenz, Jon Lowenstein, Annie Marie Musselman, Rebecca Norris Webb, Carlos Javier Ortiz and Dana Romanoff. We’re grateful to the many Kickstarter backers who made the publication possible. If you missed out on the campaign, additional copies are available by becoming a member of Blue Earth.
One of the many amazing aspects of our little community here in the Methow Valley is that there’s never a shortage of evening diversions. When the nights grow long, the calendar is full of fascinating speakers and presentations, and chief among them is the Methow Conservancy’s First Tuesday programs. Produced by Mary Kiesau, the monthly series brings in a diverse selection of naturalists, photographers, and Northwest movers-and-shakers to talk about their work and regional conservation issues. In November, we were honored to take the stage at a very full Twisp River Pub to share stories and short films from Facing Climate Change and other recent projects. An audience member published an excellent summary of the evening on the Conservancy’s blog.
Last summer we went back to prison. It had been a couple years since we first documented the amazing work of the Sustainability in Prisons Project, a collaboration between Evergreen State College and the Washington Department of Corrections. Since we completed our short film in 2009 the program has grown considerably, expanding to new facilities and adding additional conservation projects. Major new initiatives include activities at women’s prisons, including a captive rearing program for the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly. We recently spent two days at three different correctional facilities to photograph these projects and expand the organization’s image library.