A New Approach

A new home. A new job. A new approach to photography.

At the end of 2016 I accepted a job with The Nature Conservancy in Oregon. I packed up my belongings, moved to Medford, OR, and completed my two and a half year “lap around the U.S.” In the last three years I’ve lived in New York, Maine, Florida, Nebraska, and Montana. I’ve learned so much  about conservation and gotten to know some inspiring photographers, namely Michael Forsberg, Chris Helzer, and Mac Stone. From them I’ve learned the immense value of being in one place for a long time. In doing so, you develop an intimate understanding of the local issues and form crucial relationships to other people. It’s this level of understanding and dedication, I’ve learned, that makes truly great photography.

In contrast, for the last three years I’ve mainly been taking pretty pictures, writing opportunistic blog posts, and occasionally working on small video projects. This has been incredibly fun and important practice, but after seeing positive change other photographers have achieved with more focused projects I’m inspired to take a new approach. I’ve decided to focus my photography on two specific causes.

I took a lot of pretty photos like this in Montana, but so what? Everyone already loves mountains. For a while I’ve been searching for a cause to apply my love of photography to.

One is the story of vernal pools in southwest Oregon. Vernal pools and the prairie/oak habitat that they’re connected to are incredibly beautiful, dynamic, and under-appreciated. Like the prairies I explored in Nebraska, vernal pools receive almost no public celebration and require a slow, close look to fully appreciate.  But boy is a careful look rewarded. I’ve never seen a wildflower explosion like what I saw last month. Sadly, vernal pools have all but disappeared from the Rogue Valley (my new home) as well as the thoughts of most of its residents. But through The Nature Conservancy I’m closely involved in a really exciting vernal pool restoration that gives me hope for their future. Over the next couple years, I’ll be working to develop a body of images that raises appreciation for Oregon’s vernal pools and support for their restoration and stewardship.

Vernal pools flood in the winter, dry down in spring, and explode with flowers. Yet relatively few people know or care about them.

The other story is of forest restoration. At a first glance, Oregon’s forests seem like they’re doing great; they’re picturesquely verdant and vast. But as one Ph.D. ecologist put it to me, “These forests are ready to blow.” The fact is, much of southwest Oregon’s forests are quite unhealthy, in large part due to a century of fire suppression. Without frequent, mild fires, our forests have grown overly dense and homogeneous. Many shade-intolerant species are dying out. The overcrowded forests are filled with sickly trees that are prone to severe wildfire, drought, disease, and pests. A key challenge to fixing this problem is a lack of public understanding of the problems and solutions. First, many people don’t recognize that our forests are in a downward spiral. Second, there is understandable confusion around the necessary restoration practices, which primarily involve cutting trees and conducting prescribed burns. I think a multimedia project that shows the results of fire suppression and benefits of restoration would greatly help the public understand why it’s imperative that we  change the way we manage our forests.

Forests here need fire. They also need the public to understand why.

Both of these stories appeal to me because of their conservation importance, strong visual components, and urgent need for public support. I’m really excited to apply my photography to such meaningful causes. Working on these complex stories has me approaching photography like I never have before. I now have a list of images I want, a timeline, and many to-do’s that don’t involve taking photos, like talking to people, doing research, and building tools. As a result, I’ve been constantly busy, but photography has never felt more meaningful.

Stay tuned!

7 thoughts on “A New Approach

  1. I’m one that’s never heard of vernal pools. I will be looking them up and looking forward to your photos and updates on the project. I have heard of the experimenting with controlled burns in Oregon and will be very interested in hearing, and seeing, how that is progressing. Sounds like a dream job, congratulations!


    1. Thank you, Pat. Your interest and encouragement are always appreciated.


  2. Barbara MacKinnon May 15, 2017 — 1:42 pm

    Felicidades, Evan! All experiences are important but now that you have had so many, you can now put them to work in a more focused way while contributing in an important way to conservation efforts. I have no doubt you will be successful in all you do!


  3. I wish you good luck and success in this new commitment! It takes time to make people adopt new practises or new points of view on unappreciated parts of nature, but it is sure worth the effort.


    1. Thank you, Claude. Certainly extra effort, but certainly needed.


  4. Evan, I appreciate your photography and enthusiasm for these projects, but when you’re discussing forest and fire ecology, please try not to present an oversimplistic view of the current situation in sw Oregon. As an ecologist with 25 years of field experience in this region, it’s irresponsible to say that “our forests are unhealthy mainly due to a century of fire suppression”. Fire suppression is only one of a number of important variables at play; past logging, grazing, climate change and other factors have been equally if not more influential in creating the forests of today. When you focus solely on fire suppression it gives a false narrative that can lead to even bigger problems. Just a heads up.


    1. That’s a great point, Evan. Those factors have certainly helped shape our forests and it is crucial to communicate ecology in a nuanced way. I’ll modify that sentence to better to do so. I appreciate your feedback!


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