Focusing on the Bigger Picture: An Exploration of the Relationship Between Photography and Land Conservation in New England
CitationHobson, Jenny. 2018. Focusing on the Bigger Picture: An Exploration of the Relationship Between Photography and Land Conservation in New England. Master's thesis, Harvard Extension School.
AbstractWhile there has been much written regarding the relationship between art and science, a narrower focus on the connection between photography and land conservation has not been explored to its fullest potential. Historical photographers such as Ansel Adams and Carleton Watkins used their photographs as evidence of the importance of preserving the land of the national parks. Today, however, land conservation photographs show more than just how desirable the land is, they also show the ecological components, usage, and importance of the land not just for the people, but for the flora and fauna as well. In the past, aesthetics were a significant factor in successful land conservation photographs. Today, aesthetics is no longer the only factor. Examining these photographs provides a lens into contemporary views of land conservation and its practices.
Historically, land conservation efforts, such as those led by naturalist and environmental philosopher, John Muir, focused more on preservation and keeping the lands as natural and untouched as possible. John Muir spent his life fighting to keep the lands in their natural state and “considered forests sacred places of contemplation and communion with nature” (Duncan and Burns 84). Although many supported his views, by the early twentieth century, professional foresters realized that land management was more beneficial to both humans and nature and changed the focus from preservation to conservation. Land conservation still focuses on protecting the forests; however, it also involves managing the use of the land through sustainable harvesting, and grazing. This thinking allows for people to not only enjoy the land, but benefit from the goods nature produces. This view is still practiced today, and ecological and economic factors now play a role in the definition. Land conservation, as defined by David Foster:
is actually a very broad term that includes both land protection - that is trying to establish specifically legally binding or enduring constraints over what can happen to the land…[and] also includes all the ways that you treat the land, so it can include not just legal protection but also management and stewardship (Foster, Personal Interview)
He goes on to say that:
one might think of it as treating the land well or conserving, [and] protecting the environment. But of course, a lot of what we do is actually destructive. We go and cut down trees…burn forests…graze the heck out of a sheep pasture… purposely trying to shape the land through protection and management” (Foster, Personal Interview)
To gain a better understanding of the relationship between photography and land conservation, this thesis will examine the work of three diverse photographers. Each approaches land conservation differently. First, the work of Jerry Monkman will be examined. Monkman is a conservation photographer, who works directly with land conservation groups, such as the Trust for Public Land, The Nature Conservancy and the Society for the Protection of NH Forests, to provide photographs that directly engage their missions. The second is David Foster, a self-taught photographer, who is also an ecologist and the Director of the Harvard Forest in Petersham, MA. Foster’s photographs have been featured in many articles and books that focus on land conservation, land-use and the history of the land. Finally, Marion Belanger is a fine art photographer who describes herself as a “Cultural Landscape Photographer” (Belanger, Bio 1). Belanger has worked for many years photographing various aspects of the natural and human impacts on the earth.
The goal of examining these three different types of photographers is to gain a better understanding of the relationship between photography and land conservation and to see what role images can play in the success of land conservation missions. This would include helping to save vital tracts of land, bringing awareness to ecological challenges and gaining supporters for various organizations on a national and local level. Although land conservation is a world-wide subject matter, this thesis will focus strictly on New England and several of the environmental issues that are prevalent in this area. Subjects such as the Northern Pass, the Wildlands and Woodlands initiative, and the pollution of the Naugatuck River will be examined along with images by the three photographers related to these topics.
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