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Environmental Photo Essay Ideas

There’s no place on earth untouched by human activity: This was clear as Lucas Foglia whizzed across the vast, white expanse of Alaska's Juneau Ice Field last summer. He was riding an old pair of skis towed by scientist Uwe Hofmann, who periodically stopped his snowmobile to measure the rapidly melting glacier.

“It was an unforgettable experience,” says Foglia, a photographer featured in WIRED’s December issue. "Being in a place that big and wild made me feel small in a way I had never felt before, yet I knew that humans as a whole were changing that landscape.”

Foglia explores this tension in his stunning new book Human Nature. It features nearly 60 photographs that illustrate the varying ways nature impacts humans and humans impact nature—for better or worse. "It focuses on our relationship with nature, how we need wild places even if they have been shaped by us," Foglia says. "I think of each photo in the book as the tip of the iceberg that hopefully points viewers to the larger story underneath the surface of the image."

Foglia grew up on a farm in rural Long Island. Watching the surrounding fields slowly being swallowed up by housing tracts inspired his work documenting the natural environment—a focus that grew in intensity after Hurricane Sandy slammed into the eastern seaboard in 2012. “Climate change is on the news every day these days, but I realized I didn’t know what the science looked like.” he says. “I felt like photography could clearly describe the process of the science.”

Over the next five years, Foglia trailed scientists in five countries with his medium format digital camera as they took samples of air pollution, studied geysers, and launched ozone balloons into the atmosphere. He also examined governmental efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change. The Singapore Green Plan, for instance, requires developers to include green spaces in new buildings, while the Agricultural Experiment Station in New York helps farmers develop crops that can withstand changing weather patterns (more on that here).

These programs matter not only because people need nature to survive. They also matter because people need nature to thrive. Foglia learned this while documenting the research of David Strayer, a University of Utah neuroscientist who hooks participants up to EEG caps and facial electrodes as they spend time in rugged landscapes. His research shows that unplugging in nature actually increases cognitive function, helping people better solve creative problems. "He said that, in his opinion, time in wild places is part of human nature," Foglia says.

Strayer's idea reverberates throughout Human Nature. It explains the feeling of wonder and freedom Foglia felt while gliding across a remote Alaskan ice field—and further underscores the need to preserve places like it.

Human Nature is out this month from Nazraeli Press.

This month's Photojournalism Links collection highlights 10 excellent photo essays from across the world spanning five continents, including Pete Muller's powerful work shot in the Ebola-ridden Sierra Leone. His two sets of photographs, featured below, were made on assignment for National Geographic, and are the first two in a four-part series examining the epidemic in West Africa. Muller's pictures document the battle fought by medical workers, body collectors, and burial teams to bring the crisis ravaging Freetown and the country, under control. The story and images from the city's King Tom cemetery are particularly harrowing; in just a few months, it has been expanded to three times its former size and the large number of fresh burial mounds make it look more like a construction site than a typical graveyard.

Pete Muller: How Ebola Found Fertile Ground in Sierra Leone's Chaotic Capital | How the Fight Against Ebola Tested a Culture’s Traditions (National Geographic News)

Uriel Sinai: In Africa, Mosquito Nets Are Putting Fish at Risk (The New York Times) These stunning photographs by Uriel Sinai from Kenya, Tanzania, and Zambia, show how mosquito nets meant for Malaria protection have ended up being widely used in fishing, since they are cheaper than actual fishing nets and can be even more effective, especially in shallow waters.

Andy Spyra: The enemy within: Boko Haram’s reign of terror across Northern Nigeria | The enemy within: A closer look at survivors of Boko Haram attacks across Northern Nigeria (The Washington Post In Sight) The German photographer has spent more than three years documenting the northern Nigeria. His pictures provide a rare view into communities under Boko Haram's terror.

Mosa'ab Elshamy: Exploring the Mawlids of Egypt (TIME LightBox) These excellent photographs capture spiritual celebrations within Egyptian Sufism.

Manu Brabo: In Ukraine, The Frozen Tears of Donetsk (Paris Match L'Instant) The Spanish photographer, known for his work in Syria, is now in Ukraine to document the upsurge in fighting. | See also Brabo's work on the MSNBC and Al Jazeera America websites

Lynn Johnson: Healing Soldiers (The National Geographic) Compelling portraits of U.S. soldiers treating their war traumas by participating in art therapy, where they create painted masks to express how they feel. The images painted on them symbolize themes such as death, physical pain, and patriotism.

George Steinmetz: Treading Water (The National Geographic) These pictures from Florida's southeastern coastline capture a region with a lot to lose as sea levels continue to rise.

Álvaro Laiz: Ninjas: Gold Rush In Mongolia (Wired Raw File) These photographs document the hard and dangerous work of amateur gold miners.

Mark Abramson: An Immigrant’s Dream for a Better Life (The New York Times Lens)Extraordinary, in-depth photo essay that follows the life of a young Mexican immigrant woman and her family in California.

Emanuele Satolli: In the Bag for North (TIME LightBox) Revealing still life images of Central American migrants' sparse belonging on their journey toward the United States.

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