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News from Benj and Sara


Methow Headwaters

Posted 19 February 2017 by in Announcements, Multimedia

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A Canadian mining company wants to conduct exploratory drilling for copper at the headwaters of the Methow River. This is the first step toward developing an open-pit copper mine in the valley we call home. We recently collaborated on a film with the Methow Headwaters Campaign to help prevent this from happening. The new film tells the story of a mountain community coming together to share why the Methow Valley, in the heart of the North Cascades, is too special to mine. “It’s become a more unique place the more it’s stayed the same,” says local farmer Sam Lucy. “Right?” The campaign is working to secure a mineral withdrawal and permanently protect the Methow from the threat of industrial-scale mining.

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Over a year ago, with the help of LightHawk, Benj made some images of the proposed mine site for the campaign. And then we began brainstorming how we might make a film to highlight what was at stake and galvanize decision makers. The idea was to craft an economic argument that presented how a mine of this scale was incompatible with the values of the valley and to highlight a few of the more than 100 business owners that have come together in opposition. Last summer we profiled three keystone businesses that represented core values in the valley: clean water, healthy agriculture and recreation-based tourism.

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On February 19 over 400 people packed the Winthrop Barn for the film’s release party. In addition to the 7-minute short film, we also created a 60-second trailer and six 30-second testimonials that highlight a larger range of local stakeholders. Stay tuned for more campaign events in the Seattle and beyond in the months to come.

A huge thanks to the amazing team that helped us with this production: UAV magicians Whit Hassett and Ben Moon spent a week in the valley capturing stunning drone footage of ridgetops, rivers and agricultural lands. LightHawk provided a Cessna 206 to film the upper headwaters from above last June. Hannah Dewey from the Headwaters Campaign helped us with character selection and logistics. And Nick Drummond once again provided the musical score that brought the piece together. This film was funded by the generous support of Patagonia Seattle and the Mountaineers Foundation through grants to the Wilderness Society.

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We also want to give a shout out to all our neighbors here in the Methow who let us into their lives and lent their voice to the campaign: Kevin van Bueren of North Cascades Fly Fishing, Sam Lucy of Bluebird Grain Farms, Julie Muyllaert of Methow Cycle & Sport, Rick and Missy LeDuc from The Mazama Store, former county commissioner Bud Hover, and Chairman Michael Marchand of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.

Finally, it’s time to take action! The Bureau of Land Management is taking public comment on the proposed mineral withdrawal until the end of March. Learn more and submit a letter at methowheadwaters.org.

Introducing Anthropocene

Posted 18 October 2016 by in Announcements, Multimedia

Anthropocene is a new digital, print and live magazine in which the world’s most creative writers, designers, scientists and entrepreneurs explore how we can create a sustainable human age we actually want to live in. The publication is a reboot of Conservation Magazine, led by a phenomenal group of journalists and thought-leaders from the sustainability and conservation space. We were asked to create a launch film for the publication’s debut at the Habitat 3 conference in Quito, Ecuador.

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Technically, the Anthropocene is a proposed new epoch of geological time in which human activity has changed the environment so significantly that we’re now leaving a mark in the rock record. Stratigraphers are currently debating on whether to make this official and many are leaning that way. Josh Tewksbury, one of the scientists we interviewed for the film, told me that “to acknowledge the Anthropocene is to acknowledge that all environmental solutions involve people.” And it is these solution stories that are at the heart of this new publication.

It’s always a challenge to film something that doesn’t yet exist. When we started in on this project the concept and advisory team were in place, but the publication had yet to be created. However we had two formidable resources: the collective eloquence of the founding team and the stunning animation work Félix Pharand-Deschénes of Globaïa had already created to illustrate the Anthropocene epoch.

During a series of working meetings in Washington, DC, we filmed three days of interviews with the advisory team, founders, funders and journalists. Sara wove these together to form the narrative thread and establish the conceptual foundation. A huge thanks to Jason Houston and David Rochkind for helping to run the cameras for these shoots.

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Photo: Jason Houston

Next we started to illustrate the Anthropocene concept. Globaïa, a team we’ve worked with before, produces some of the most sophisticated global projections of our human footprint that we’ve ever seen. These became an instrumental part of the visual narrative. We also utilized the Google Earth Engine which allows one to view a 20-year time-lapse of LANDSAT data from almost anywhere on the globe. And whether one looks at Las Vegas, the Brazilian Amazon or Saudi Arabia the rate and scale of landscape change is overwhelming. There’s a huge amount of technical magic behind both tools and we’re immensely grateful for the team that helped us integrate them into the film.

The first issue is now online and in-print. Find it at anthropocenemagazine.org.

Anthropocene animation by Globaïa

Journalist Mark Shapiro

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The launch event at Habitat 3.

Conservation Scholars, Year Two

Posted 10 September 2016 by in Multimedia, Photography

Last summer we helped document the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program at the University of Washington. It’s an eight-week, multi-summer immersion experience for undergrads with a goal to shape the future of conservation by fully integrating social justice, urban environments and more diverse communities into the discipline.

We returned this year to film final presentations and make portraits of this year’s cohort. Like last year, the first-year students worked with NPR contributor Chenjerai Kumanyika to write and present Moth-style, personal conservation stories. We filmed these live and made them available in this Vimeo channel.

Matinn Miller

Carlos Valenzuela

Olivia Won

Jose Esparza

High Hopes wins first place in the Yale e360 contest

Posted 18 August 2016 by in Announcements, Multimedia, Photography

We’re excited to share that High Hopes, our film on ocean acidification and Dungeness crab, has won first place in the Yale Environment 360 video contest. Yale Environment 360 is an online publication focused on global environmental issues. We were honored to also take first place back in 2014 for Badru’s Story. A big thanks to all our collaborators on this project, including Ocean Conservancy, Resource Media, NOAA Fisheries, Liz Banse, Samantha Murray and Ryan Ono.

High Hopes on the Hill

Posted 22 May 2016 by in Announcements, Exhibits and Presentations

Creating change through visual stories can often be a faith-based endeavor, no matter how targeted your audience. But that’s not the case with our most-recent film, High Hopes. Last month we were thrilled to learn that our film on ocean acidification and Dungeness crab for the Ocean Conservancy was to be screened for decision-makers in the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, DC.

On May 19, 2016, the Conservancy hosted a briefing on Capitol Hill to highlight the recently documented impacts of ocean acidification on Dungeness crab and what this might mean for the future of this vital West Coast fishery. After our film premiered, two individuals from the film – fisherman John Mellor and NOAA scientist Paul McElhany – participated in a panel discussion hosted by Congressmen Derek Kilmer and Don Young.

Collaborations for Cause 2016

Posted 20 April 2016 by in Announcements, Exhibits and Presentations

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Sara and I were honored to again participate in Blue Earth’s Collaborations for Cause conference. The two-day event, held April 15-16, 2016 at Seattle’s downtown Library brought together change-makers, photographers, filmmakers, non-profits and communications professionals.

On Friday we gave a 30-minute talk on how storytelling can make science more inclusive and relevant to today’s challenges. A growing number of scientists are motivated to connect their information in a way that they think will be useful, and then collaborating with visual storytellers like us to help them reach their goals. We shared our recent film, High Hopes, as a case study as well as a couple of other recent projects.

As always, our favorite part of Collaborations for Cause was getting to meet an amazing cross-section of movers and shakers who are making a difference through storytelling. The next conference will be held May 5-6, 2017 in Seattle.

Photo: Russell Sparkman

Photo: Russell Sparkman

Conservation Conversation

Posted 15 January 2016 by in Multimedia, Photography

Why does human diversity matter to biodiversity? Without significant changes the conservation community will become a movement of the past instead of a guiding vision for the future. In our new short film, students from around the country discuss identity, conservation and their future in the field.

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The conversations were filmed during the first week of the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program at the University of Washington. It’s an eight-week, multi-summer immersion experience for undergrads. The goal of the program is to shape the future of conservation by fully integrating social justice, urban environments and more diverse communities and career paths for the next generation of leaders. We were asked by the College of the Environment to help document the student’s journey through the program. We did this in three ways: the Conservation Conversation film, documenting the student’s final presentations and making portraits of each student.

For the film, we knew we wanted to record interviews with the students early on as our goal was to capture the perspectives and backgrounds the students were bringing in to the program, rather than what they learned over their eight-week experience. We also decided to film conversations between the students instead of conducting normal interviews. Though we lost the ability to lead the discussion, we hoped a more organic conversation might let us capture personal, peer-to-peer moments and avoid the code switch that could happen when students tried to be polite and professional. We provided pairs of students with a list of prompts and then stood back to film wherever the conversation led.

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The program leaders were just as interested in the storytelling process as they were in any final product we helped them produce. They wanted the students to consider communication as part of science, and they were looking for the students to build community, explore identity and celebrate authentic voice. For their final presentation they worked with NPR contributor Chenjerai Kumanyika to write and present Moth-style, personal conservation stories. We filmed these live and made them available on Vimeo.

Finally, we made black-and-white portraits of each student for them to use as they begin to follow their conservation pathway through academic and career opportunities.

Kai Blatt

Bilal Karim

Malayshia Lumpkin

High Hopes: The Future of Dungeness Crab

Posted 8 December 2015 by in Announcements, Multimedia, Photography

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Dungeness crab has been in the news recently because an unprecedented toxic algal bloom has closed the fishery all along the West coast. Algal blooms are common but this one is proving particularly large and persistent, with El Niño conditions and warmer ocean temperatures the likely cause. Though this year’s closure may be an anomaly, fishermen have other reasons to worry about the future of one of the most valuable commercial fisheries on the West Coast. Ocean acidification is changing the chemistry of our oceans, and scientists and fishermen are just beginning to understand how it will impact Dungeness crab. “Even though they’re incredibly tough,” says research ecologist Paul McElhany, “they are also susceptible to environmental conditions.”
This summer we worked with the Ocean Conservancy, California crab fishermen and scientists at NOAA to tell the story of the future of Dungeness crab. The Conservancy wanted a film to encourage both policy makers and leaders within the crabbing industry to make further research on ocean acidification a top priority. The oyster industry has been tremendously successful at galvanizing support for more research and, given the size of the crab fishery, a similar effort is prudent. Our five-minute film profiles two fishermen and explains why scientists are concerned.
This was one of those projects where everything just worked. Benj spent three perfect days with fishermen in San Francisco and Bolinas, California and then visited NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Mulkilteo, Washington where they happened to be collecting the vulnerable megalopae and juvenile Dungeness crab that same week. Music for the film came from cellist Jami Sieber, whose subtle swells and percussive techniques brought the scenes to life. We owe a huge thanks to Samantha Murray who conducted pre-interviews with dozen of crabbers along the West Coast. I also want to give a shout-out to fishermen John Mellor who brought his operation to a halt in rough seas to jury-rig a GoPro on an algae-covered buoy and thus created the opening sequence in the film.
Watch High Hopes or browse a collection of images from the project.
Dungeness crab megalops.
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Adult Dungeness crab.

Back to Africa for Vital Signs

Posted 7 November 2015 by in Announcements, Photography

Bean trellises frame terraced fields in the village of Uwinka. 510VS2701

Since 2011 we’ve helped Conservation International tell the story of Vital Signs, a monitoring network for agriculture, nature and human well-being. The program is now up and running in five African countries and over the years we’ve built out an image library from each country to illustrate local famers, ecosystem threats and the labor-intensive data collection that tracks these trends. This fall I traveled to Rwanda and Kenya to create additional images for the collection.

In October I spent a week in the highlands of Rwanda, just outside of Nyungwe National Park. I was working with a team of five field technicians who were collecting vegetation and soil samples along with extensive household survey data. There is little flat ground in Rwanda and the famers in this community have carved out an extensive system of terraced fields to grow corn, beans, potatoes and tea. Very little soil is left unused. After a few days with famers I accompanied the technicians on an epic 14-hour bushwhack into Nyungwe and some of the steepest tropical terrain I have ever encountered. We finished in the dark in the rain with nothing but fireflies, lightning and a ranger’s cellphone to trace our trail.

The next week I was off to Nairobi for a whirlwind tour of three different landscapes in disparate corners of the country. Data collection hasn’t begun in Kenya yet, so we had to build local connections and relationships as we went. This meant lots of meetings with county commissioners and I was tremendously impressed by the support we received from local government officials. Other than a tribal conflict / shoot-out that kept us out of one pastoral community, all went smoothly. I spent the last night of the trip in a small dugout canoe in the Yala Swamp, checking nets with local fishermen as the sun set through equatorial thunderstorms.

Browse a gallery of favorite frames »

Odette with her elder son, Damascene. 510VS1358

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Nyirabazungu Anonciate hold her cow while her son mucks out the pen. 510VS4097

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Wildfire in Orion

Posted 1 November 2015 by in Photography, Press

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Orion magazine has published an image in their November / December issue of a retardant drop in our backyard. More images from our burn-over in the 2014 Carlton Complex fire can be found here.

North Cascades aerials for Methow Headwaters

Posted 30 October 2015 by in Photography

A Canadian mining company wants to conduct exploratory drilling at the headwaters of the Methow River in Mazama. As preposterous as it sounds, it’s not a new threat as the Methow Valley sits at the southern end of a significant British Columbia copper belt. A campaign is in the process of forming to challenge this proposal, led by the Methow Valley Citizens Council and The Wilderness Society.

With the support of LightHawk we were asked to make images of the proposed mine site on Flagg Mountain, the upper reaches of the Methow Headwaters in the North Cascades and a variety of other Methow Valley locations. On a smoky day in mid-October with the alpine larch in peak color, we completed a three-hour flight that met all these objectives.

This is just the beginning of a long fight. Stay tuned for more…

The headawaters of the Methow River and Holliway Mountain, looking east. Azurite Peak and Handcock Ridge at left.

Flagg Mountain, Goat Creek, and Goat Peak looking northwest. Mazama Junction, Lost River Rd and the Hwy 20 corridor can also be seen.

Silver Star Mountain and Cutthroat Creek, looking south along Hwy 20 towards Washington Pass. Hinkhouse Peak at center; Libtery Bell at right.

New eBook for the TEAM Network

Posted 25 September 2015 by in Announcements, Multimedia

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For the last four years we’ve worked with Conservation International’s TEAM Network to profile the people behind an early warning system for tropical forests. We’ve traveled to field sites in Tanzania, Uganda, Peru and Malaysia to build out an image library and a series of four short films, including Badru’s Story, Patricia’s Story and Christine’s Story.

To secure long-term support for the Network, TEAM’s leadership asked for a compelling visual aid that they could share with current and potential donors and other partners. To meet this need we’ve produced a 70-page interactive eBook optimized for iPad. The piece features a text narrative, five different films, four photo galleries, and interviews and portraits we made with 16 staff members. It’s all material that we collected over five different trips since 2011.

This was the first time we’ve worked with the eBook format and it was great fun to pull together multiple projects into a single integrated package. The final publication is a cohesive, media-rich reading experience that can be enjoyed without an internet connection.

The ebook is available through iTunes to anyone with an iPad or Mac.
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