What is Conservation Photography?

Letter by Carlton read to founding assembly of the International League of Conservation Photographers, Anchorage, Alaska, September 30, 2005

Here are my thoughts on a central question: What makes a Conservation Photographer?

In very simple terms, it is it relies on the two words: a Photographer working for Conservation. It is a given that all of us here are photographers (plus editor and reps), but the defining principal should be conservation.

A photographer should not qualify as a conservation photographer unless his or her primary purpose is advancing conservation. Loss of biological and cultural diversity is the most fundamental problem facing humanity, yet these issues are not receiving the necessary attention. In a modern world, photography needs to help solve this problem and is arguably the most powerful tool available for doing so.

Each person who claims membership to the ILCP should be a conservationist first. He or she should be choosing projects based on the ability to make a difference. With the privilege of being the eyes of the world comes a serious responsibility to help steer society in the right direction. And while an ILCP member should be a dedicated professional producing photographs of the highest quality possible, their role should not stop there. The photographs should be embraced as a means to an end goal of conservation, not an end in and of itself. Photography is a potent force only when applied.

The ultimate measure of successful conservation photography should be creating tangible advancement for the conservation agenda. The benchmarks have been set: the early American landscape photographers and the creation of the national parks, Nick Nichols and the new national parks in Gabon, Peter Dombrovskis and the conservation movement in Australia, Patricio Robles Gil and the trans-boundary Wilderness in Mexico. These are the examples of our mission.

Each ILCP member should be an ambassador for conservation and for the mission of the league, and they should use their pictures to champion for conservation causes. If the photographer cannot do their own campaigning, they should make sure the photographs are placed in the hands of people who can use them to affect change.

I believe the most important achievement of this symposium will be for the photographers to leave here will a common vision of what ILCP stands for. There are seemingly endless possibilities for how the principals of conservation photography can be applied and for what role the ILCP will serve in advancing their principals. But the principals are the guiding factor that all decisions should come back to. Like a constitution, our principals will define us and must be cauterized before we take the next steps.

As such, please remember this opinion: Conservation in the essential mission, applied professional Photography our solution.

Thanks you for considering my thoughts,

Carlton Ward Jr.

View new photography at www.carltonward.com