Updated: Feb 12, 2020
It is a chilly day at Newport Beach. There is a gray haze that covers the sky, the sun's usual brightness concealed by thick clouds. The sea refuses to glisten as when rays of light kiss the waves and creates speckles of diamonds across the seabed. The waves are dynamic, sweeping into tall, beautiful arches, and then descending like falling dancers as they disperse into a bed of white foam. The ocean rumbles and the birds pad lightly on the sand, skittering away from incoming tides. Surfers wearing black swimsuits carry their long boards and dive bravely into the sea, their bodies swallowed by the water.
I sit here on the soft sand, allowing all my senses to absorb the surroundings. My mind pauses, my heart beat slows, my busy life stops—and I can breathe. I feel a supernatural serenity wash over me. I sit and listen to the waves, stare at the vast sky, smell the saline, and feel the breeze that brushes my skin.
The sheer power and majesty of nature cannot be replaced by looking at a photograph. Yet as a photographer, there is always a desire in me to freeze it in time so that I can monumentalize the sacred. Photographing nature requires me to get up close, to go behind bushes, to climb rocks, to bend down low or to get up high just to explore the different angles in which I can shoot an object. Capturing nature through different angles causes the viewer to stop and re-evaluate what they might have missed with their naked eyes.
(Quilotoa, November 2018)
Photo-taking is exactly how Ansel Adams, a celebrated American photographer and environmental activist, helped others view nature in a new way. The awe his photography instigated then awakened human consciousness, leading to a movement of environmental preservation.
Adams first visited Yosemite in 1916 when he was 14. He describes Yosemite as "a sunrise, a glitter of green and golden wonder in a vast edifice of stone and space." His magical connection to this particular landscape is further realized as he eloquently states, "I know of no sculpture, painting or music that exceeds the compelling spiritual command of the soaring shape of granite cliff and dome, of patina of light on rock and forest, and of the thunder and whispering of the falling, flowing waters."
(Huntington Gardens, July 2013)
During his first visit Adams used a simple Brownie Kodak camera made of cardboard. He then joined the Sierra Club, a group that fights to conserve nature, and worked as a custodian for a lodge in Yosemite at 17. He regularly participated in the club's excursions. In 1927, he was assigned to be the official photographer for their annual outing. Adams became increasingly involved in the Sierra Club, defending the wilderness and writing proposals on ways to improve national parks. His pictures were first used to advance environmental causes when the club lobbied to create another national park in the Sierra Nevada mountains, the Kings Canyon Park. To persuade Congress, he compiled his photographs of the Sierras together to create an influential book called The John Muir Trail. This along with his testimony played a crucial role in convincing Congress, and the national park was created in 1940.
In 1968, Adams was presented the Conservation Service Award, and in 1980 he received the Presidential Medal for Freedom in recognition of his exceptional photography, conservation efforts, and service. A man praised Adams, stating that "more than any other influential American of his epoch, Adams believed in both the possibility and the probability of humankind living in harmony and balance with its environment.”
And I believe that nature photography can do just that—it can open our eyes to see the beauty surrounding us, helping us to reach a deeper harmony with the world we live in.