Archive for the ‘From The Field’ Category

Riedel’s Second Letter From Eastern Congo

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

Those Who Are Left Remember – Eastern Congo, 2011

Those Who Are Left Remember - Eastern Congo, 2011


In August 2011, writing my first Letter from Eastern Congo, I had no idea of the extent to which my fieldwork in South-Kivu Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) would change my life. I am not thinking here of the early morning of August 13, 2013, when a gun battle that lasted three hours awakened me to memories of childhood experiences in Germany during World War II. Here for a brief time, I experienced the chaos that the people of the eastern DRC have been facing, sometimes daily, for the past twenty years.

In my Cameras without Borders: Photography for Healing and Peace project I engage survivors of trauma in image making both in front and behind the camera (Riedel, 2013, p.11). The project has evolved and in conflict-ravaged, rural communities of the eastern DRC small groups of local people are increasingly involved in addressing the ‘collective trauma’ of epidemic violence and genocidal warfare (Riedel, 2014). This work is proceeding in collaboration with professionals and volunteers associated with the Great Lakes Foundation (GLF) for Peace and Justice, Pastor Bwimana Aembe, Director.


After The Attack I – Eastern Congo, 2012

After The Attack- Eastern Congo, 2012


After The Attack II – Eastern Congo, 2012

After The Attack II - Eastern Congo, 2012


Intergenerational transmission of trauma is a serious problem because it fuels ever-more destructive cycles of violence. For example, in a village that had suffered horrible massacres I facilitated a support group for eight former child-soldiers; their average age was 16, but they had spent a total of 43 years in captivity in the bush, on average 5.4 years each. Later I engaged these young men in a psychotherapeutic photography workshop - I describe details of this technique and other examples in a journal article entitled, “Psychology, Photography, and Social Advocacy” (Riedel, 2013). One of the young men said to me, “You have given me something more important than money.” As a photographer and psychologist I seek to set into motion processes that help people transcend being paralyzed by trauma to being able to live with trauma.

Collective trauma dehumanizes individual and community life. In the contested areas of the eastern DRC sexual atrocities and torture are employed as weapons of warfare. In the aftermath, I frequently observe how traumatized communities scapegoat victims resulting in what I call ‘circular oppression.’ My mantra is de-traumatization means humanizing the situation.

Dehumanization extends to environmental problems. For example, I often observe how traumatized communities lose resilience and connection to indigenous roots and cultural values. Frequently trauma becomes a thinly veiled excuse for exploitation. We are or should be aware of the environmental trauma caused by international mineral exploitation in the eastern DRC. But it is no less disastrous when traumatized communities, for example, turn their old-growth forests into charcoal for sale, destroying the very resources on which their lives depended for centuries. In collectively traumatized communities human and environmental devastation are linked and must be addressed holistically.

The toxic repercussions of the confluence of the Rwandan genocide of 1994, and international mineral exploitation in the eastern DRC have set into motion a human tragedy of unspeakable brutality in which, since 1994, an estimated six million Congolese citizens have died. This is a horror the world widely ignores. My field experiences with my Cameras Without Borders project have convinced me that this overwhelming human suffering is not just a political issue, to be left to military and political solutions, but needs to be approached as a mental and public health problem. I am not the first person warning, “When we imagine that our psychology is separate from politics, we support violent conflict” (Audergon, 2004).

Through my photographic work in the DRC I came to realize that there is no logically foreseeable, linear solution to the complex collective trauma situation there. I began thinking in terms of dynamic patterns…of cycles (Riedel, 2014). For example, healthy situations are characterized by cycles of generativity and collective trauma situations by cycles of violence. Intervention requires interrupting the cycles of violence to help traumatized communities to connect with generative energies. It is not about getting it right at first try but about finding a process, which I call purposeful action that sets into motion cycles of healing. To be effective, change in these troubled regions must be homegrown, i.e. it must emerge out of the native environment rather than imposed from the outside.

When I ventured into South-Kivu Province, DRC, in 2011, over and over in traumatized rural communities I heard women and girls, all survivors of sexual atrocities and torture, ask for a “field hospital” that would tend to their physical and emotional wounds. The plight of child-soldiers, who are also the victims of rampant violence, was not different.

Over the past three years, listening to and working with trauma survivors, doctors at small rural hospitals, as well as community organizers the idea of a holistic Mobile Clinic Trauma Management project developed. The Pettit Foundation awarded my Cameras Without Borders: Photography for Healing and Peace project at Blue Earth a $50,000 grant. Their generosity is a great example of how partnerships between communities, documentary photographers, and foundations can yield concrete results.


Mobile Clinic I – Eastern Congo, 2013

Mobile Clinic I - Eastern Congo, 2013


Mobile Clinic II – Eastern Congo, 2012

Mobile Clinic II – Eastern Congo, 2012


The Mobile Clinic pilot project provides not only medical and psychosocial treatment but also vocational training programs (Riedel, 2014). The project reaches out to rural areas where the Congolese trauma epidemic rages out of control and survivors have no access to medical care and many die. During its first year, the on-the-ground impact of the Mobile Clinic project is helping more than 1,000 survivors of war-related sexual atrocities and torture to access medical and psychosocial treatment. The project also provides seed money to communities for vocational training projects with the dual purpose of social reintegration of trauma victims and economic community development.

The training projects encourage local organizations to develop a sense of independence, decision-making, and acceptance of responsibility for making the Mobile Clinic Program self-sustaining. These expectations are strategically important to empower communities, overcome forces of social fragmentation, and counter the pervasive sense of helplessness and dependency associated with collective trauma: “Detraumatization means humanizing the situation.”

Eberhard Riedel, Photographer and Psychoanalyst


Visit Riedel’s project page Cameras without Borders: Photography for Healing and Peace at Blue Earth for a gallery of his recent photos.

Sarah Fretwell At TEDxSkidRow

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

The truth told: Sarah Fretwell at TEDxSkidRow

TEDxSkidRow recently featured a talk by Sarah Fretwell, whose work in The Truth Told Project Blue Earth is proud to sponsor.

Her presentation Unreasonable Activism - A Journey into the Heart of the Democratic Republic of Congo at TEDxSkidRow in Los Angeles last year.  Take a few minutes to learn more about Fretwell’s work in the field directly from the source.

- Bart J. Cannon, Executive Director

Jon Lowenstein On BagNews

Friday, May 17th, 2013

Jon Lowenstein On BagNews

BagNews is featuring an article by Jon Lowenstein South Side: Shots Fired, highlighting his recent reporting on everyday life amidst the violence on the streets in the Chicago South Side.  Lowenstein has recently had two projects with Blue Earth: Shadow Lives USA and The Perilous Path: Cross-Border Migrant Journeys in the New Global Economy, both of which report on cross-border communities of Mexico and Central America and their experiences migrating to the US.

- Bart J. Cannon, Executive Director

Live Q&A With Christoph Gielen

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

A live Q&A with Christoph Gielen will be hosted tomorrow, Friday Feb. 28th, by Creative Time Reports.

Photographer Christoph Gielen, seen above in a helicopter flying over a maximum security prison in Arizona, joins us on Facebook this Friday (3/1) at 1pm for a Q&A to discuss his CTR dispatch “Supermax Prisons: Views from Above.”

Also joining the conversation will be architectural and cultural historian Michael Prokopow, President of Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR) Raphael Sperry, and others to be announced.

As noted earlier, and article by Gielen on his Blue Earth project was just published in Creative Time Reports this month.

- Bart J. Cannon, Executive Director

New Films For Facing Climate Change

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

Benjamin Drummond and Sara Joy Steele just launched four new films for Facing Climate Change. Oyster Farmers, Coastal Tribes, Potato Farmers, and Plateau Tribes all explore global climate change through people who live and work in the Pacific Northwest.

These stories came about after one of the project’s partners, the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington, released the Washington Climate Change Impacts Assessment. It’s an incredible resource with startling projections for how climate change will impact the Northwest’s future, but it’s also 400 pages and a lot of science to wade through. Benj and Sara’s goal is to put a face to projections like these and to bring new voices into the conversation.

The new films recently premiered at the Wild & Scenic Film Festival, and over the next year Benj and Sara will be working to distribute the stories though their project partners and a series of community events - including a launch event in Seattle. In 2013 they will also add two more films. Stay tuned to their blog for details.

- Bart J. Cannon, Executive Director

Christoph Gielen In Creative Time Reports

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

Christoph Gielen In Creative Time Reports

Creative Time Reports just published today a new article by Christoph Gielen.  In the article, Gielen discusses his Blue Earth project Incarcerated Populations: American Prison Perspectives and features several new photos.  This will be the first in a forthcoming series of articles from Gielen - keep an eye out for further updates!

- Bart J. Cannon, Executive Director

Samantha Box In Conversation

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

Samantha Box In Conversation

Samantha Box will have an “artist’s talk” at Strange Loop Gallery in New York on Monday, February 25th, 8 p.m.  Box will be discussing her Blue Earth project Invisible with Alexis Heller, founder/director of The Hear Me ROAR! Project and the Coalition for Queer Youth.  The gallery will feature an exhibition of Box’s latest photos from the project - if you will be in the area next week, be sure not to miss this unique opportunity!

- Bart J. Cannon, Executive Director

Peter DiCampo In Salon

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

Peter DiCampo In Salon

Salon this week published Introducing Africa to the OMG crowd an article by Blue Earth project photographer Peter DiCampo.  DiCampo’s article discusses the use of Instagram in, and its effects on, his ongoing project Everyday Africa, a joint project with writer Austin Merrill.  It’s an interesting case study on the opportunities presented by new technology.

- Bart J. Cannon, Executive Director

Blue Earth Photographers At Wild & Scenic Film Festival

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

Wild & Scenic Film Festival

Several Blue Earth photographers and board members recently attended the Wild & Scenic Film Festival in Nevada City, California. The Festival, now in its 11th year, features environmental and adventure films. This year’s theme was A Climate of Change and more than 4,500 tickets were sold.

Garth Lenz spoke about the True Cost of Oil and shared images from his project, Energy and Ecology.

Matt Black presented photography from his project, The People of Clouds, which chronicles the unraveling of one of the world’s oldest farming cultures in the Mixteca region of Southern Mexico.

Benjamin Drummond and Sara Joy Steele premiered four new films from their project, Facing Climate Change. They also spoke on a panel titled On the Edge of Their Seats: Effective Storytelling in a Noisy World, with board member Jason Houston of Take One Creative. Jason and his partner Hal Clifford were at the festival for the west coast premiere of their new film, Picture the Leviathan.


Photo Credit: Wild & Scenic

Furlotti Awards Grant To “Cameras Without Borders”

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

We are pleased to note that the Furlotti Family Foundation awarded a $50,000 grant to Eberhard Riedel’s Cameras Without Borders project at Blue Earth.  Over recent years, Riedel has spent many months in several African nations ravaged by conflict working in the field to photograph his project as well as to help efforts at recovery.  This grant is a recognition of the value of his work, and a great example of how partnerships between documentary photographers and foundations can yield concrete results.

As noted on the Blue Earth blog earlier, Eberhard Riedel: My African Journey, Riedel’s latest manuscript will be published this spring in the journal Psychological Perspectives, Volume 56-1.  Be sure to check out the article to learn about his most recent trip.

- Bart J. Cannon, Executive Director

Shell’s Kulluk Rig Run Aground

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

World View of Global Warming

Our readers may remember that Blue Earth’s Gary Braasch recently published the first photos of Shell’s Kulluk oil rig off the coast of Alaska.  Now that very same oil rig has run aground:

Already there is a disturbing New Year’s surprise from Shell Oil.  Shell’s drill rig Kulluk, which Gary Braasch photographed in October off northern Alaska, broke free of tow ropes and ran aground on Kodiak Island in heavy seas while being towed to Seattle. We have info and links to the news.

Just three months ago on World View of Global Warming we showed how close Shell’s Kulluk drilling location was to Alaska’s protected Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The grounding of the rig on its way from that location via Dutch Harbor to Seattle for the winter shows the power of Arctic weather, and the threat of oil drilling to all of Alaska’s rich waters and wildlife along its coast.

Visit Gary’s World View of Global Warming for additional updates as well as new photos from his latest trips.

- Bart J. Cannon, Executive Director

Updated Gallery Of Tom Reese’s “Choosing Hope”

Monday, December 17th, 2012

Updated Gallery For Tom Reese's "Choosing Hope"

“Sacred and Profane” from Tom Reese’s “Choosing Hope: Reclaiming the Duwamish River” project at Blue Earth.


Blue Earth project photographer Tom Reese was kind enough to share with us a new collection of some of his latest work.  Reese has been winning awards for his project and is keeping very busy these days with recent exhibits.

The Duwamish River can be hard to love, but it flows powerfully through the hearts of those who know it well. The Duwamish is one of earth’s vital arteries conveying lifeblood from mountains to the sea, so it can be difficult to accept that its lower 5½ -mile stretch has been turned into one of the most toxic waste environments in the United States - an industrial sewage canal flowing out past the scenic waterfront of Seattle.

It would be easy to turn away feeling depressed and helpless, but a growing number of people are choosing to believe in the recovery of this river and are working relentlessly toward that future.  Their vision has motivated the first successes in reducing water pollution and restoring habitat, wildlife, and hope.

The larger question for the river is also the essential human question of our time: “What relationship do we choose to have with our home, the natural world?”

Take a few minutes to check out the new photos in his project gallery!

- Bart J. Cannon, Executive Director

From The Field: Gary Braasch In India, Nepal, and Bhutan

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

From The Field: Gary Braasch In India, Nepal, and Bhutan

Fresh from the field, Blue Earth project photographer Gary Braasch just published an update on his recent travels:

We have just returned from a two month journey to India, Nepal and — for the first time — Bhutan. We explored climate change, energy, food and conservation issues affecting Himalayan and Indian villages, cities and rivers. Gary shot more than 25,000 24-mb images with the latest full frame digital cameras.

Please see our first report from this journey, about the source of the Ganges River, now updated with recent science and implications of rapidly thawing ice. Gary estimated the Gangotri glacier terminus is now at 30 degrees 55 minutes 34 seconds N, 79 degrees 4 minutes 48 seconds E. Recent scientific measurements pace its recession at approximately 18 meters a year.

Take a few moments to check out a gallery of his latest photos.

- Bart J. Cannon, Executive Director

Eberhard Riedel: My African Journey

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012


Violated. © Eberhard Riedel from his project, Cameras Without Borders.


Recently returned from an extended stay in Africa, Blue Earth project photographer Eberhard Riedel has just finished a new manuscript, “My African Journey: Psychology, Photography, and Social Advocacy.”

At home and abroad we face the seemingly intractable problem of fundamentalist ideology, racism and tribal violence tearing apart the human fabric. Here I propose that paying attention to innate psychological processes can make a difference. I work with individuals and communities suffering the post-traumatic consequences of war and violence in crisis areas of eastern Congo, northern Uganda, South Sudan and western Kenya. I observe that unresolved post-traumatic issues lead to intergenerational transmission of trauma that in turn feeds future cycles of war, violence and discrimination. In the spirit of prevention, it is essential that the international community prioritize attention to the psychological perspectives involved in human rights issues.

His new article will appear in will be published in the journal Psychological Perspectives, Volume 56-1, the first issue to be published in 2013.

- Bart J. Cannon, Executive Director

Camera Club Of New York Discussion With Samantha Box

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

Camera Club Of New York Interviews Samantha Box

Blue Earth project photographer Samantha Box is featured by the Camera Club of New York in a conversation with Michael Foley.  The half-hour discussion provides interesting insights into her recent work photographing the LGBT community.

Check out Box’s project page to see a small gallery of recent images and to learn more about Invisible, her sponsored project at Blue Earth.

- Bart J. Cannon, Executive Director

Bruce Farnsworth Cover Photo

Friday, July 27th, 2012

Bruce Farnsworth Cover Photo

A compelling photograph from Bruce Farnsworth’s Amazon Headwaters project has been chosen for Hadyn Washington’s new book Human Dependence on Nature.

I made this image while hiking with lowland Quichua friends near Ahuano, Ecuador in the transitional slopes of western Amazonia. A young lowland Quichua boy sits beneath a large “Chuncho” tree (Cedrelinga cataeniformes), one of several species that pierce the local rainforest canopy. It’s hard wood is preferred for the making of traditional dugout canoes.

Read more about the photo on Bruce’s blog.

- Bart J. Cannon, Executive Director

Project Update: Garth Lenz “Energy and Ecology”

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

Garth Lenz has been busy promoting new work from his Blue Earth project Energy and Ecology.  His “True Cost of Oil” exhibit is going to be shown in conjunction with the world premiere of a commissioned string quartet - Crossroads -  for the world renowned Fry Street String Quartet on the theme of the environment and sustainability. His photos, and the work of artist Rebecca Allan, will be shown as part of the premiere and also in an exhibition at the Tippets Gallery at Utah State University in Logan Utah.

Lenz will also be giving a presentation and conducting a masterclass for photography students as well as being present at the premiere on September 27th. The exhibit will run from September 10th-October 12th, 2012:

At the dawn of the 21st Century, humanity has arrived at an extraordinary Crossroads—a time and place where scientific ability to identify unprecedented risk, decades in advance, intersects society’s seeming inability to respond. Little of humanity’s course, as currently imagined, is sustainable—not our energy, not our economy, not our environment. But we are possessed of the knowledge we need, and a tide is rising.

The Crossroads Project is an artistic and scientific response to this reality.

On September 27, 2012, on the campus of Utah State University, The Fry Street Quartet joins with physicist and educator Dr. Robert Davies in an evocative performance combining music, information, imagery—and a dash of theater — merging intellectual with visceral, taking us from understanding to belief.  This performance debuts a new string quartet by noted composer Laura Kaminsky, along with original works by painter Rebecca Allan, internationally recognized environmental photographer Garth Lenz, and Utah sculptor Lyman Whitaker.

Weaving together a chorus of artistic and scientific voices responding to one of society’s greatest challenges, The Crossroads Project is a deep-seated contemplation of the choices before us, the paths they forge, and the dramatically different landscapes to which they lead.

Lenz’s photos from the tar sands exhibit were also recently featured in the “Guilty Landscapes” issue of the prestigious Amsterdam/New York quarterly publication Volume.  One of the images from the show also ran in the Time Magazine cover story “The Truth About Oil.”

He was also recently interviewed on Radio Netherlands Worldwide as part of their Earthbeat program. Readers can access the podcast online - Lenz’s interview appears about 3-4 minutes in, running about 15 minutes.

And finally (at least for now) Lenz’s presentation at the Ecocide mock sentencing recently held in England was a great success.

Stay tuned for more updates from the field…

- Bart J. Cannon, Executive Director

NPR Interviews Dina Kantor

Friday, July 13th, 2012

Dina Kantor On NPR

Recently, Dina Kantor was interviewed by NPR’s Claire O’Neill about her Blue Earth project Treece.  Check out The Picture Show at NPR for a gallery of recent photos from Treece.

- Bart J. Cannon, Executive Director

Taylor Weidman In Mongolia

Saturday, April 28th, 2012

Taylor Weidman In Mongolia


“I’m going to be the last herder in my family,” Erdenemunkh, a herder I had just met, said. It was the same thing I had been hearing for the previous three days.

I had been traveling in Azraga, a small region in Central Mongolia that has been hit by a devastating “dzud” - a terrible winter that had killed 40% of Erdenemunkh’s livestock. And his losses weren’t even particularly severe - one of his neighbors lost all but 1 of his 80 cows. For these nomads, most of whom don’t have a bank account, their herds represent their savings, their net worth, and their future earning potential. Losses this high are shocking and recovery is a slow and arduous process.


Taylor Weidman In Mongolia


Speaking further with Erdenemunkh, I learned that there are many, serious problems facing nomads. First is the changing climate. Summers, critical times for animals to store fat, are shortening. Winters are deepening and worsening. Combined with this, a lack of regulation has resulted in an unsustainable increase in the number of animals being grazed, especially goats, which are prized for their cashmere. This increase is killing off areas of local vegetation, and, with the roots dead, the top soil blows away in the constant winds of the Mongolian steppes. The result is newly barren land, an expanding desert creeping northward.

Against this bleak backdrop, urban Mongolia is booming. Over the next decade, the International Monetary Fund predicts that Mongolia will be the fourth fastest growing economy in the world - based principally on its mining sector. Nomads, frustrated at the difficulties of life on the steppes, are moving in droves to the capital, doubling the size of the capital in the last 15 years.

After hearing all of this, I wasn’t surprised that Erdenemunkh, who quite school at 13, is pushing his children to excel scholastically. As a herder without any other skills or education, his options are limited, and his fate is determined by an increasingly difficult landscape. He insists that his children graduate from school to find jobs in the city.

- Taylor Weidman

Visit Weidman’s project page to learn more about his Blue Earth project Nomads No More
.  Stay tuned for more updates from the field!

Dina Kantor Back In Treece

Monday, March 12th, 2012

Vickie and Clyde, Treece, 2011  © Dina Kantor

Vickie and Clyde, Treece, 2011  © Dina Kantor

Blue Earth project photographer Dina Kantor has been traveling this winter in Kansas conducting field work for her project “Treece.” If you have been following the story of this small town, you’ll know that the end is rapidly approaching:

This past week, I returned to Treece to continue photographing the final chapters in its history. Treece was once part of the booming tri-state mining area, which provided the majority of the lead and zinc that the US used in both world wars. The mines closed in the 1970s, leaving behind communities of mining families. Treece is included in an EPA superfund site, and it’s land has been deemed dangerous to live on. Past mining practices left mountains of lead-filled chat dotting the landscape, as well as unstable ground susceptible to sink holes. Recently, the residents in Treece were offered government-funded relocation assistance, and I have been photographing there over the past few years recording the rapid changes.

Since my last visit in the fall, the shifts the landscape are mind-blowing. Virtually all of the homes in the center of town have been demolished, leaving 40 acres nearly barren of any sign of habitation. Last week I watched as the old Treece water tower was slowly pulled down from its foundation. In all, it took five men working with blow torches, cables, and a backhoe to bring the tower down. On Friday I recorded the demolition of city hall – in this case, merely taking minutes.

For the rest of the trip, I visited with former residents, local officials, and the few families who elected to stay in Treece even in the face of government relocation efforts.  New photos and video will be online soon.

- Dina Kantor

Visit Kantor’s project page Treece, for a gallery of her recent photos.

Eberhard Riedel Speaking In Seattle & Santa Fe

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

Eberhard Riedel is busy these days traveling, speaking, and presenting workshops about his Blue Earth project Cameras without Borders: Photography for Healing and Peace at Blue Earth. On February 24-25, 2012 Riedel will be speaking at the C. G. Jung Institute of Santa Fe and on March 9-10 for the C. G. Jung Society of Seattle.

The goal of my photographic work is to emotionally connect and sense the breadth and magni­tude of fundamentalist and tribal violence in the world and do something about it. I work with marginalized and traumatized populations in Congo, Kenya and Uganda where I help communi­ties working to address the psychological consequences of war and tribal violence. As a psychoana­lyst I know that the traumatized psyche is unable to reflect or imagine and thus experiences itself as isolated from the rest of humanity. I will explore how photography can transcend personal and cultural layers of reference and help rekindle the struggle of giving birth to one’s future. A victim of sexual violence in Eastern Congo participating in a Cameras without Borders workshop said, “The picture in the camera is like a pregnancy,” and curiously imagined what might be gestating in her camera. There cannot be freedom – absence of war – without a place of mutual curiosity and respect; and without attention to the emotional injuries of survivors of war and violence humanitarian assistance does not provide sufficient con­text for reconciliation and lasting peace.

Photographers can pay $15 membership discounted admission for the Seattle event on March 9th. Don’t miss these unique opportunities to hear about his work in the field in Riedel’s own words.

- Bart J. Cannon, Executive Director

Garth Lenz: Provincial Distance in a Tar Nation

Friday, January 20th, 2012

Blue Earth project photographer Garth Lenz recently spoke at TEDxVictoria and his address is now online.  Given the ongoing coverage of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, his message couldn’t be more timely and pressing.

Garth’s project with Blue Earth Energy and Ecology continues his work on the threat presented by unsustainable energy development, particularly unconventional fossil fuels. This work comprises both the photographic documentation of these issues, as well as the effective outreach needed to ensure that the resulting images make a positive contribution. He will be returning this fall to the Alberta Tar Sands to create new work as well as to give a tour of the area to environmental journalists. He will also be touring and photographing the shale gas region of northeastern B.C. on the same trip.

- Bart J. Cannon, Executive Director

Drummond & Steele In Africa

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

Benjamin Drummoond & Sara Joy Steele

Blue Earth photographer Benjamin Drummond and Sara Joy Steele have been busy this past year in Africa working on variety of projects including traveling with scientists collecting climate data.

“‘Most conservation science today isn’t ambitious enough,’ says Conservation International’s Sandy Andelman. ‘We are informing battles, but we are not providing the knowledge needed, at the scale needed, to win the war.’ To meet this challenge, Conservation International, the Earth Institute and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation envision a monitoring network that combines ecological, agricultural and socioeconomic data from around the world. The approach is similar to TEAM’s biodiversity monitoring, but the focus is ecosystem services and the scale is huge: 400 sites within two or three years.”

Learn more about their work in Tanzania on this project and check out a gallery of new images on their website.

- Bart J. Cannon, Executive Director

Florian Schulz’s Polar Bears In National Geographic

Friday, September 2nd, 2011

As part of his travels in the Arctic this summer, Blue Earth project photographer Florian Schulz produced a stunning series of photos featuring polar bears.  If you have followed the news, it’s becoming increasingly apparent the dramatic effects global warming is producing in their Arctic habitat, seriously threatening their continued survival.  A small gallery of his images from the trip is highlighted in National Geographic.

In addition, National Geographic has a behind the scenes video profiling Schulz in working in the field, including his efforts in the Svalbard archipelago capturing a polar bear feeding at the shoreline.

- Bart J. Cannon, Executive Director

Gary Braasch, This Is Climate Change

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

Long-time Blue Earth project photographer Gary Braasch is working with the Del Mar Global Trust to help educate the public about the effects of global warming. His recent newsletter provides the details:


Many of the 50,000 passengers passing through Reagan National airport in Washington DC daily will now see a different kind of advertisement in the concourse:  a new public education initiative has installed a photographic billboard of ongoing climate change today.


This Is Climate Change, an educational project of the Del Mar Global Trust, put up the first of a series of large backlighted photographs yesterday, featuring my time series view of the shrinking Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska.  As part of World View of Global Warming, I rephotographed an 1894 image in 2008 to show the visible effect of global warming on the glacier near Juneau.

This Is Climate Change project will place photographs and other strong visuals in public locations to show that climate change is real and is currently impacting the United States.  Despite the overwhelming scientific findings on the reality of man-made climate change, a 2010 Pew Research Center poll found that only 59% of Americans believed that there was solid evidence that the earth was getting warmer.  “The numerous scientific reports and publications affirming that climate change is real and human induced have not seemed to sway public opinion” explains project director, Elena Marszalek, in a press release. “We thought an approach that focuses on changes which are already affecting the U.S. would make climate change a more relevant issue to the American public.”

Gary Braasch, This Is Climate Change

The Del Mar Global Trust chose to collaborate with me because of my celebrated series of views of affected landscapes, part of my 11-year photojournalistic project to increase climate science literacy.  The This Is Climate Change educational project will be synergistic with other programs to re-emphasize the science of climate change and the implications of the rising amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.  The backlighted photographic billboard will be in Reagan National airport for a year; other displays of global warming in other public locations, and further collaborations, are planned.

“Gary Braasch has been one of the most devoted artists… and his epic global treks to ravaged coastlines, sinking islands, and dwindling ice sheets give us some of our most powerful images of our new reality,” wrote Bill McKibben in The Global Warming Reader (Bill is not affiliated with this project but is now in Washington leading civil protests against a proposed tar sands oil pipeline from Canada).

For more information, please see the Climate Photo of the Week

Gary Braasch

Keep up to date with Gary’s ongoing projects here on the Blue Earth blog and on his own website World View of Global Warming.

Asim Rafiqui And Tibet’s Exiled Poets

Friday, August 26th, 2011

At his personal blog The Spinning Head, Blue Earth project photographer Asim Rafiqui is sharing some of his new work, not only as part of his Blue Earth Idea Of India project, but also with other areas he is exploring.  “I have just completed the first in a series of projects that I am calling “short stories.” … The first short project is on the works and lives of Tibet’s exiled poets living in India and is called Dream Palaces.”

Rafiqui has also published a photo gallery featuring a larger set of images from this work.

- Bart J. Cannon, Executive Director

Letter From Eastern Congo

Friday, August 5th, 2011

"Victim of War in Eastern Congo I," 2011, DR Congo. © Eberhard Riedel

“Victim of War in Eastern Congo I,” 2011, DR Congo. © Eberhard Riedel


I recently returned from seven weeks of fieldwork in South-Kivu Province in Eastern Congo, which borders Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania. Since I started my Cameras without Borders: Photography for Healing and Peace project in Africa I had looked for an opportunity to work in the eastern parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo. This chance presented itself when I met Pastor Aembe, President of the Great Lakes Foundation, who invited me to Eastern Congo to contribute to their group’s peace building efforts. We met in November 2010 while I lectured at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, as part of a three-month project in Uganda and Kenya.

Since the beginning of the Rwandan genocide in the early 1990s the neighboring parts of Congo have been in constant turmoil and states of war with terrible consequences for the local population and environment. Travel and photography permits are required, and a continual monitoring of the security situation is necessary while working in rural areas of South-Kivu Province. I was fortunate to have the unwavering assistance of members and associates of the Great Lakes Foundation located in Bukavu, the Provincial Capital of South-Kivu. The Great Lakes Foundation was started by a group of local professionals who have dedicated their lives to peace building efforts in their region.

"Suffering the War in Eastern Congo III," 2011, DR Congo. © Eberhard Riedel

“Suffering the War in Eastern Congo III,” 2011, DR Congo. © Eberhard Riedel


Though travel in eastern Congo was physically and emotionally difficult, I returned home feeling not only deeply affected by the experiences but also sensed that a page had turned in my professional life - both as a photographer and psychoanalyst.  The physical and emotional trauma of the people in the Province is quite overwhelming; the abuses are ongoing and epidemic. As a psychologist I was able to: (i) provide psychological support to some victims of sexual abuse and ex-child soldiers; (ii) work with their families and communities around rejection of sexually traumatized women and issues of reintegration of ex-child soldiers; (iii) refer fifteen of the most seriously injured women to Panzi Gynecological Hospital in Bukavu; and (iv) train local volunteers and professionals.

As a photographer I had two distinct goals: (i) To visually translate emotional experiences into portraiture in order to communicate the multiple psychosocial issues that plague the people of Eastern Congo and neighboring Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda. Out of safety concerns I did most portrait work in private spaces and limited my people-in-environment documentary efforts. (ii) My other goal was to teach photography to individuals who have suffered trauma and are marginalized and to encourage them to tell their stories through images. This process follows an old tradition of building bridges to artistic layers of the psyche to help people rediscover their voice.

Specifically, I conducted Cameras without Borders workshops with three groups of women who had been sexually victimized and three groups of ex-child soldiers. After printing three or four photographs for each participant I typically start the conversation asking, “What are the stories these pictures are telling you?” In the resulting group process most participants spoke quite eloquently from their hearts, which in turn encouraged local professionals to look at group therapy as a healing modality.

"Victim of War in Eastern Congo IV," 2011, DR Congo. © Eberhard Riedel

“Victim of War in Eastern Congo IV,” 2011, DR Congo. © Eberhard Riedel


Photographic work with victims of war and violence requires reflection on boundary issues - does the work help or exploit the victim? My goal is to help interrupt the cycle of violence. To achieve this I believe we must tend to the physical and emotional wounds of victims of trauma. In Eastern Congo the issue is to help stop a perverse war against the indigenous population and the environment. Collaborating with local people, such as members of the Great Lakes Foundation, who, yearning for peace, engage both in grassroots work and efforts to transform the political and legal culture of the region, provides many opportunities to effect change.

When I meet with people in the villages I frequently ask, “What kind of assistance would be most helpful to you at this time?” Overwhelmingly the first concern is health services. Of the tens of thousands of victims of sexual violence in the rural areas of South-Kivu Province the vast majority go for months or years without access to treatment for their internal injuries and infections, and scores die. The next most frequent assistance requested is help from the international community to remove the quasi-nomadic foreign militia criminals from the bush. The psychosocial consequences of this epidemic are vast: Villagers live under constant threat; women fear returning to their fields where many attacks happen; men feel unable to protect their families, so they feel disempowered and often leave; young rape victims are shunned from marriage; and families lack the funds to send their children to school. The mayor of one village said to me, “Peace starts at the local level with education.” But my observation is that trauma is being transmitted to the next generation and, I fear, this will fuel the next cycle of violence. This is the topic of another Letter from Eastern Congo.

Eberhard Riedel, Photographer and Psychoanalyst

Visit Riedel’s project page Cameras without Borders: Photography for Healing and Peace at Blue Earth for a gallery of his recent photos.

Drummond & Steele Back From Tanzania

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

Recently, Blue Earth project photographer Benj Drummond and Sara Joy Steele were in Tanzania to participate in a training for Conservation International’s Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring project.   They provide a brief description of the trip in an article on their blog and a gallery of images from the meeting as well as from an excursion to the Udzungwa National Park.

- Bart J. Cannon, Executive Director

Updates From Gary Braasch

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

Ever the dedicated photojournalist, the indefatigable Gary Braasch has been hard at work writing, taking new photos, documenting the effects of global warming, and promoting public education.  Updates from his latest newsletter include…

More images and ideas - including climate change effects, science and solutions in the Pacific region:

Recent and upcoming image publications and events:

  • Gary Braasch’s environmental photography was featured in The Bund, Chinese news and photo magazine. The essay on CO2 monitoring was picked up by the excellent website CO2 Now. Current CO2 level is above 392 ppm.
  • Photos of eroding American coastlines are central to the redesigned Koshland Science Museum, National Academy of Science, opening soon.
  • For the upcoming World Meteorological Organization Bulletin, an eleven-page portfolio and article on the urgency of communicating weather and climate events - more on this to come.
  • I will be teaching at the Maine Media Workshops in early July. Excellent for aspiring professionals and leaders in environmental NGOs. Also excellent for NGOs, teachers, and “every citizen” (as Al Gore said).
  • My book Earth Under Fire is now available as an e-book.

Keep up to date with Gary’s ongoing projects with updates here on the Blue Earth blog and on his own website World View of Global Warming.

- Bart J. Cannon, Executive Director

Greg Constantine From The Field

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

Rohingya in Burma are subjected to a number of human rights abuses. Burmese authorities forced these women to stand up to their necks in a pond of water for eight hours. In February 2009, 120 families from the village fled to Bangladesh.  © Greg Constantine

Rohingya in Burma are subjected to a number of human rights abuses. Burmese authorities forced these women to stand up to their necks in a pond of water for eight hours. In February 2009, 120 families from the village fled to Bangladesh.  © Greg Constantine

A stateless woman in eastern Ukraine holds her expired Soviet passport. The breakup of the USSR in 1991 left millions in a legal no man's land many of whom are still without citizenship.  © Greg Constantine

A stateless woman in eastern Ukraine holds her expired Soviet passport. The breakup of the USSR in 1991 left millions in a legal no man’s land many of whom are still without citizenship.  © Greg Constantine

It’s been awhile since I last wrote for the Blue Earth blog, but there have been some very exciting developments with my project over the past few months I wanted to share.

At the end of 2010, I received a discretionary grant from the Documentary Photography Project of the Open Society Institute to turn the work from my project on the Nubian community in Kenya into my first book.  The UNHCR provided matching funding for the publication of the book.  Kenya’s Nubians: Then Now will be self-published and will be released in September.  We’ll be getting the work into libraries and schools in Kenya as part of the outreach component for the book.  This book will be the first in a series of books about statelessness around the world, all of which are components of my larger project: Nowhere People.

I’m now in the process of securing funding for the second book Exiled to Nowhere: Burma’s Rohingya.

A large exhibition of my project Nowhere People opened in late 2010 and will be traveling to some key venues around the world over the next 18 months.  The UNHCR is sponsoring the exhibition.  The tour opened with an exhibition at the United Nations Palais des Nations in Geneva last December with UNHCR High Commissioner Antonio Guterres opening the exhibition at the annual UN High Commissioner’s dialog.

The exhibition will be shown at the US State Department for one week in May and at the Hall of Nations at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC for 3-weeks in June.  It will then travel and be shown at the UN Headquarters in NYC for the entire month of August.  Other cities slated to host the exhibition include: Paris, London, Madrid, some cities in Asia and then hopefully back to the US later next year.

And lastly, my ongoing work on the stateless Rohingya from Burma has been recognized twice this year with awards in the 2011 Days Japan International Photojournalism Awards and most recently, in the Amnesty International Human Rights Press Awards in Hong Kong.

I’m in the Dominican Republic right now working on a story about the denial of citizenship to and denationalization of Dominicans of Haitian descent who have lived in the Dominican Republic for generations.  It is one of the most radical examples of state-sponsored racism and denial of citizenship not only in the western hemisphere but in the world.  Few people know anything about it yet it impacts the lives of tens of thousands in this country.

Stay tuned for more updates in the future!

Greg Constantine

For more information and updates on his latest work in the field, visit Greg’s newly updated and redesigned website.

Gary Braasch in Tuvalu

Monday, February 28th, 2011

© Gary Braasch

Gary Braasch, well-known Blue Earth project photographer, is traveling the Pacific conducting work for his project World View Of Global Warming.  Rather than try to summarize, I’ll let Gary speak in his own words:


Best wishes from the South Pacific just across the Dateline:

I have returned to Tuvalu, one of the smallest nations in the world, to continue coverage for World View of Global Warming.  Before I make it home again to Oregon, I will also photograph and report from Fiji and Kiribati.

As the King tides, highest of this year, swept across the coral atoll shores, I found the kids I photographed during the 2005 King tide — no longer little kids!   Please see the portfolio.

Other Tuvalu portfolios are also available on World View of Global Warming.  King tide coverage is coming up early this week.  One of the photo-stories illustrates what Tuvalu is doing to map the most vulnerable areas in light of current science of how atolls evolve.   Please stay tuned.

All images and portfolios — and many more — are available for publication and to help NGOs and agencies reach policymakers and the public.

I hope my new pictures will continue to inspire, influence and educate about the plight and strength of the Tuvaluan people.  The 2005 image has become one important way millions have been able to feel the human connection to those who stand to lose the most from rapid climate change.  First seen on the BBC website, and then in my book Earth Under Fire, earlier photos have seen publication by the UN and hundreds of NGOs, magazines and books.

Thank you.

Timeless India

Monday, January 24th, 2011

© Amit Mehra


© Amit Mehra

© Amit Mehra

Chobi Mela VI, The International Photography Festival, is featuring a series “Timeless India” by Blue Earth project photographer Amit Mehra in their latest exhibit.

Images…Glimpses, steeped in the colours of tradition, soaked in sacred waters and suffused with the wisdom of cultural values. Such are the portraits found in the pages of my book…visuals of people leading real lives in India. People, who breathe its very soul. People, who embrace the rising clout of India as a global superpower and yet, grasp that its distinctive individualism comes from the strength of its secular heritage. Scan the leaves of this book and you will find the faces of people, who exemplify that even with the many milestones of progress that every era and generation spans, it is the inherent core of a multi-religious and cross-cultural identity that continues to define the celebration called India.

A celebration that finds expression through the medium of its many religions. A revelry that emerges from the roots of faith and belief. A kaleidoscope, in which each remains a unique element and yet comes together to compose a picture of brilliance. It can be found in the pages of history that saw a multitude of races and peoples come to India, generate influences and ideologies that were taken into the vast folds of its being and find home by adapting our customs as ‘Indians’. A reflection of how India has always maintained an expansive acceptance of all cultures as modes of eternal values and, which has been the essence of its secular spirit. A connect that is as evident today as it was before; an aspect that shapes who we are as Indians. I find it in the instance of the Muslim caretaker of the Amarnath shrine, a pilgrimage for Hindus and a Hindu family is taking care of an Imambara in Uttar Pradesh. It shines through in the example of the Indian cricket team, which embodies the thought of ‘unity in diversity’. It is found even in the panorama of Bollywood that reels through stars who follow different religions but projects the Technicolor imagery of Indian cinema on screen. For me, one such beautiful precedent founding my life too, where upon my father’s demise, Hazrat Shah Mohammad Baqar Faridi, A Sufi saint provided abundantly for my upbringing, both monetarily and spiritually.

I have been asked, at times, that being bound to traditional values is what keeps one from acknowledging the concept of globalization. On the contrary, it is only when an individual has a connection and an understanding of his own roots, that he can gauge the idea of globalization far more profoundly. Sample this…a survey, conducted by prominent a national daily recently, revealed that 94% of Indians are religious - that it forms a part of our identity. And it is this facet, that religion and identity cannot be disconnected, which underlines that wherever an Indian goes, it is this ‘Indian-ness’ that follows. Of taking our traditions to new horizons. Perhaps, the best illustration of this comes to my mind through the example of the Banyan tree, which spreads to encompass new branches that find their own roots in their own time but always remains connected to the parent tree. It epitomizes how irrespective of whichever phase of time we may be in, our roots as Indians will always be the one to distinguish us as the people that we will become in the world. And that India is above the notions of any time frame; it is the celebration of a spirit that is Timeless…  - Amit Mehra

The show in Dhaka, Bangladesh is running now through February 3rd.

- Bart J. Cannon, Executive Director

Benj Drummond In Orion Magazine

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

If you are a regular reader of Orion Magazine you will have noticed that Blue Earth project photographer Benj Drummond had a series of photos in the feature “The Economics of Estuary” in the September/October issue.

Should nature have a price? In June I received an assignment from Orion to shoot a feature by Ginger Strand on the economics of estuary restoration efforts along the lower Skagit River. There were three key characters in this story: the farmers, who had been tilling the Valley’s fertile soil since their great grandparents built the first dikes generations ago; the Swinomish and other Skagit tribes, who champion the restoration of critical salmon habitat; and the local staff of The Nature Conservancy, who have carefully built bridges within the community through a number of groundbreaking projects.

See a gallery of images from the assignment and read more about Benj’s story on his blog.

- Bart J. Cannon, Executive Director

New Reporting From Gary Braasch In The Gulf

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

Recently, Gary Braasch was in the Gulf on assignment for Vanity Fair covering the effects of the BP oil spill on endangered sea turtles.  The article is now live on Vanity Fair as a web exclusive, and Braasch has published a large gallery of photos from the assignment, along with galleries of other stories from the Gulf, on World View of Global Warming.

The fate of the most endangered sea turtle, the Kemp’s Ridley, Lepidochelys kempii, was caught up in the BP oil spill because its juvenile habitat is centered in the oil spill area.  The assignment for Vanity Fair to follow the turtles during the oil disaster gives perspective to the fact that in the oil spill, of the 1124 sea turtles officially listed as found dead or oiled or otherwise caught in the oil spill area, 787 were Kemp’s ridleys.  How many more turtles died without being found, or were caught in BP’s oil burns, may never be known.

Also of note: Gary Braasch’s children’s book with Lynne Cherry, How We Know What We Know About Our Changing Climate, has been awarded the Louise J. Batton Authors Award in the K-12 category by the American Meteorological Society.  Our congrats to Gary!

- Bart J. Cannon, Executive Director

Gary Braasch Expands Gulf Oil Spill Coverage

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

As noted earlier, Blue Earth project photographer Gary Braasch has been working diligently in the Gulf reporting on the effects of the BP oil spill.  Braasch’s latest photos emphasize the context of the spill - not as a unique occurrence, but a consequence of a larger series of poor choices in US energy policy decision-making:

This is also an issue of national energy choices, since a large part of the land erosion and subsidence is due to gas and oil pumping and a network of oil industry canals and pipelines which has cut the marsh to shards. The Delta is suffering an ongoing loss of land at a rate of about 40 square miles each year –more than 2 and a half acres an hour — due also to changes made in the river flow, the recent series of hurricanes since Katrina, and natural subsidence and wave action. A photo story on the Pointe Au Chien community is part of our coverage of the Oil Spill and its implications.

Though the well may be capped, the long-term consequences of this disaster are yet to be known - though there is little doubt that the environment, wildlife, and people living near the Gulf will be forced to cope with the aftermath for decades to come.

Follow Gary Braasch’s work and ongoing reporting on his extensive, documentary website World View Of Global Warming.

- Bart J. Cannon, Executive Director

Gary Braasch Continues Reporting The Gulf Oil Disaster

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

Attempted cleanup of heavy oil, Terrebonne Bay Louisiana, by workers of subcontractor for BP.  July 14, 2010.  They are throwing absorbent booms and pads into the mess and are just dragging it out again, over and over.  BP Gulf Oil coverage by photojournalist Gary Braasch and scientist Joan Rothlein

Attempted cleanup of heavy oil, Terrebonne Bay Louisiana, by workers of subcontractor for BP.  July 14, 2010.  They are throwing absorbent booms and pads into the mess and are just dragging it out again, over and over.  BP Gulf Oil coverage by photojournalist Gary Braasch and scientist Joan Rothlein


Though the well may be capped (at least we hope it stays that way), the ongoing disaster in the Gulf created by BP’s deep water drilling continues today.  Blue Earth project photographer Gary Braasch remains on the scene in the Gulf reporting on the crisis, even as the mainstream media turns its attention to the latest MTV music awards.

“It is my hope that these images and ideas will be useful to you not only in depicting this largest environmental disaster - but also in helping turn public and political opinion toward a positive change in our energy and climate policy.  My work here will help illustrate the link between the warming atmosphere and the overuse of fossil fuels and risky drilling for more oil.  I am reporting with Joan Rothlein, an environmental health scientist, and will be preparing reports and photos on many aspects of the oil spill that continues to heavily affect the Gulf waters.  The coverage ranges from the 4.9 million barrels of oil that flowed out from the rig site for three months - to the broad effects on and reactions by the people of the Gulf and telling details along the way.”

It’s easy to forget how much we rely on the dedication and professionalism of photojournalists like Gary to keep the public’s eye pointing in the right direction.  Follow his work, including his own posts from the field, and view more new images from his ongoing reporting at World View Of Global Warming.

- Bart J. Cannon, Executive Director

Blue Earth Chats With Daniel Beltrá, Who Recently Photographed The Gulf Oil Spill

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

Picture courtesy of Daniel Beltrá / © 2010 Daniel Beltrá/Greenpeace; used with permission

Picture courtesy of Daniel Beltrá / © 2010 Daniel Beltrá/Greenpeace; used with permission


The oil spill is an ecological tragedy of enormous proportions.  It’s unclear how BP is going address the situation, and the long term consequences will obviously be severe.  BP has not been forthcoming about the extent of the spill and what is being done to fix it.  There have also been disturbing news reports about efforts to stop photographers and journalists from documenting the spill and its effect.  We took a moment to chat with Daniel Beltrá who returned from photographing the oil spill.

Daniel Beltrá is an award winning photographer, who shoots for Greenpeace, among other organizations.  (Daniel’s “Amazon at Risk” was a Blue Earth sponsored project.)

Blue Earth:
So you just got back from 28 days in the gulf, shooting the oil spill - what’s your reaction in a sentence to what you saw?
Daniel:  It’s one of the biggest ecological tragedies in many centuries.  It’s a time bomb.

Blue Earth: What brought you down there to photograph?
Daniel: Greenpeace called me for a four or five day assignment.  28 days later I was still there.  It’s been a difficult assignment to work.  Two weeks into the assignment, I realized it was a challenge to document this properly and that we need to show this to the rest of the world.

Blue Earth: How did you get to a spot from which you were able to photograph?
I went out on a plane a lot . . . a donor provided air-time, and this made it possible to capture many of the images.

Blue Earth: Where there any logistical challenges to being able to document the spill?
Daniel: Yes, definitely.  The authorities were really playing the BP game.  There was an exclusion area of 3000 feet, a Temporary Flight Restriction.  90% of what I shot was above 3000 feet which is really challenging.

Blue Earth: What have you seen or photographed that you think the average person who watches on the news does not have a sense of about the spill?
Daniel: Probably the scale of the spill.  From time to time the oil would appear and disappear, and capturing the scale of the spill was difficult.  The use of dispersants was also very scary.  Some 800,000 gallons of a dispersant may have been used, and from what I understand, this type of a dispersant is banned in other countries, like the UK.  Nobody knows what will happen with the dispersant.  For a long time, the game was to hide what was happening . . . when the oil is below the surface, you don’t necessarily see it.

Blue Earth: There were reports of journalists and photographers being prevented by BP and by the authorities from photographing - did you experience any of this?
Daniel: All the time.  It’s a pretty difficult region to access, since it’s a coastal marshland with few points of access.  There were restrictions on air and water travel.  I’ve been chased off the beach, for example in Grand Isle.  The local law enforcement said it was OK to photograph from the beach, but later the Sheriff came and said:  “everyone out.”  When this happened I went to the command center thinking that I could sort it out, but an air force sergeant there said that I would actually have to go to a community center, and coordinate with BP.  At the community center, BP “coordinated” visits - they would basically escort you and call ahead.

Blue Earth: Apart from the ecological damage, what sort of other effects will this have on the area?
Daniel: It will have a huge effect on the way many people make their living in the gulf.

Blue Earth: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us!  Check out Daniel Beltrá’s website, blog, and Facebook page.

Guardian Audio Slideshow
:  You can check out Daniel’s audio slideshow at the Guardian.

Greenpeace International Picture DeskGreenpeace’s International Picture Desk [Facebook] has a large selection of photographs of the oil spill.

The Big Picture:  The Big Picture from the Boston Globe has an excellent slideshow, including some of Daniel’s images:  “Oil Reaches Louisiana Shores.”

BP Photo Blockage:  For coverage of BP and government efforts to prevent photographers from documenting the spill, check out this article in Mother Jones:  “It’s BP’s Oil,” as well as coverage in Newsweek (”BP’s Photo Blockade of the Gulf Oil Spill“), TreeHugger (”BP Contractors and Coast Guard Prevent CBS From Filming Oil Spill Devastation“) and Mother Nature Network (”Coast Guard and BP threaten journalists with arrest for documenting oil spill“).

In addition to Daniel, two other Blue Earth photographers have spoken about the effect of the spill.  Florian Schulz spoke to NPR:  “The Oil Spill: A Conservation Photographer’s Reaction,” and the Seattle PI:  “Photographer: Don’t risk Arctic oil spill.”  Subhankar Banerjee wrote a piece for TomDispatch “BPing the Arctic?,” which received extensive coverage.

- Venkat Balasubramani, Member Blue Earth Board of Directors

Follow Asim Rafiqui’s Progress In India

Friday, January 15th, 2010

Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh  © Asim Rafiqui

Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh  © Asim Rafiqui


Want to follow the day-to-day work in the field of an internationally famous photojournalist?  Blue Earth project photographer Asim Rafiqui is providing regular updates on his latest trip to India.  At his personal blog The Spinning Head, Asim is sharing details on all the situations, sites, spaces that he is exploring as part of his “Idea Of India” project along with maps of his travels though the country.

- Bart J. Cannon, Program Manager

Lydia Lum On Angel Island, Day 2

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

© Lydia Lum

© Lydia Lum


© Lydia Lum

© Lydia Lum


Say the phrase “Ellis Island of the West,” and a certain image comes to mind, doesn’t it?  When Europeans sailed to America and saw the Statue of Liberty, they knew their trip was nearly over.  They considered Ellis Island a dream destination.

But Angel Island, which is a short ferry ride from San Francisco, was not a place that Chinese immigrants looked forward to.

Back in China, the villagers would spend months at a time preparing for the interrogations that they expected at Angel Island.  The answers to the questions would be compared to those of their sponsors in the U.S., who were cross-examined by the officials running the immigration station.  If answers between immigrants and sponsors didn’t match, immigrants could be deported to China.

These questions were nitpicky.  They revolved around the immigrants’ families, villages and lives in China.  For instance:

“How many windows are in your home?”
“What direction does each window face?”
“How many water buffalo does each family on your row own?”
“Describe the route to your grandparents’ graves.”

The overwhelming majority of Chinese who came through Angel Island were boys and young men like my Uncle Raymond who went through this ordeal in hopes of going on to find jobs in San Francisco—laundry, restaurant, herb shop—that would allow them to send money home to their impoverished families and villages.  By “young men,” I mean ages 9 or 10, 12 or 13, for the most part.

I was reminded of how young some of the immigrants were when I visited Angel Island recently for the first time in several years.  To see a child’s clothing or pair of shoes is sobering, to say the least.

Lydia Lum


Lum’s current project with Blue Earth is Angel Island: The Ellis Island of the West.

Lydia Lum On Angel Island

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

© Ludia Lum

© Lydia Lum


© Ludia Lum

© Lydia Lum


Greetings!  My esteemed colleague and fellow project extraordinaire John Trotter chronicled some of his recent travels in highly entertaining fashion.  After re-reading them prior to starting this blog entry, I think we should commission a how-to blog on how to blog after John blogs on the BEA blog…

If you’re unfamiliar with Angel Island, often called the Ellis Island of the West, let me introduce you.  It’s a state park in California, near Alcatraz.  For Chinese immigrants such as my late great-uncle Raymond, Angel Island was their first American home if they arrived here between 1910 and 1940.

But rather than a welcoming gateway, the Angel Island immigration station was better known as “the Guardian of the Western Gate.”  It was a veritable prison.  Some 175,000 Chinese were detained there and interrogated for days, even months in some cases.  Why?  Because Americans already here were trying to protect jobs they believed were their birthright; they feared competition, that the Chinese would take away jobs.  The idea behind Angel Island was to keep the Chinese out, to discourage them from making the trans-Pacific voyage in the first place.

A broad part of my project involved interviewing and photographing some of the surviving Angel Islanders.  There aren’t many living.  My uncle Raymond passed away a few years ago.  I feel fortunate he shared much of his story with me.

“We had nothing to do at Angel Island except wait,” Uncle Raymond recalled.  “I was so scared.  But my dad had told me this was a part of life.  All Chinese going to America went through this.”

Uncle Raymond was at Angel Island for three months, shoehorned into a 2,700-square-foot room of triple-tiered bunks where he and more than 200 other Chinese immigrants languished.

Can you imagine how crowded that is?  Many of us (although not me) own homes, where, let’s say, a family of 4 might live in 2,000 square feet.  You can see my point, I imagine, when considering a room of 2,700-square feet for 200 people.

I recently returned to Angel Island, which reopened to the public this year after a major phase of a large-scale preservation and restoration project.  Some portions of the barracks where Uncle Raymond and other men stayed now contain props and staging, to try to re-create some sense of what the place might have been like, what it might have felt like to live there day to day, month to month.

As you’ll notice in the images, there’s no semblance of privacy—at all.  Strangers were lumped together, like cattle in a pen.  I didn’t measure the bunks but estimate the “bed” to be about 18 inches wide.  To me, the bed seemed smaller than say, the front door of a house.

The staged set-up also included one of the original bunks.  It’s the rusted one.

Lydia Lum


Lum’s current project with Blue Earth is Angel Island: The Ellis Island of the West.

Along The Colorado River - Mary’s Lake Campground

Friday, August 7th, 2009

Double rainbow over Mary's Lake Campground, shortly after my arrival. © John Trotter

Double rainbow over Mary’s Lake Campground, shortly after my arrival. © John Trotter


Trail Ridge Road, left, through Rocky Mountain National Park, near its highest point. © John Trotter

Trail Ridge Road, left, through Rocky Mountain National Park, near its highest point. © John Trotter


Now, where was I in the telling of how I managed to end up on the wrong side of the law?  I can tell you where I am right now, for sure: in my tent at Mary’s Lake Campground, where I ended my day shortly after the angry chatter of a mountain hailstorm against the plastic shell of my helmet and a foreboding fork of lighting just up the road on which I was riding.

Those of you with maps might recognize that I have crossed the Continental Divide today.  Those of you with memories of blog postings long past might recall that I came here on a blustery November day around Thanksgiving with my brother.  But just to prove it’s not always blustery here, I’m going to attach a picture of the rainbow that appeared like a sign, after my arrival here.

And for those interested in the cycling component of this trip, I pedaled through Rocky Mountain National Park on Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous paved road in the United States, topping out at about 12,183 feet (3, 7153 meters), but easier for me than Berthoud Pass was a week ago, most likely because of my extended stay at high altitude.

OK, before the rest of my laptop battery power drizzles out here in the rainstorm that’s unexpectedly blown up outside, here’s the conclusion to the ranger story:

Trying to be an honest and open guy and I told the ranger, Jim Canetti, that I’d been photographing Covey Potter (the researcher-see previous blog entry) as part of my work on my Colorado River project.  I even made a short plug for the Blue Earth Alliance, which didn’t seem to impress him.  “Do you have a permit as a professional photographer to work in the park?” he asked.

Well, no, I didn’t.  To me, the fact that the river was in the park was incidental and getting a permit to photograph along the same river I’ve been photographing these past years had honestly never entered my mind.  He saw it differently.  “Let’s talk about being a professional photographer,” he said.

“Oh, come on,” I thought.  “Why do you want to get all depressing?”

“You make your living as a photographer?” the ranger asked.

“After a fashion.”

“You’re planning to sell the pictures you’re taking here?” he continued.

“Really, I’m only thinking of them in terms of a book.”

“A book,” he repeated.

I wasn’t trying to appear pitiful by telling him the truth, but maybe doing so had planted the seed of pitying me in the mind underneath that Smokey Bear hat.  As he radioed in the information from my New York driver’s license (like I ever use the thing) I could see him glance at the little wheels on the folding bicycle they’d caught me with, way up at this forlorn ditch camp, with its little American flag tattering in the mountain breeze.  And I could almost hear the story they’d be telling the folks about me after the horses were unsaddled for the day.

To my surprise, the female ranger actually started to ask me some questions about my bike, confessing that the surface improvements on the road into the western end of the park had made her consider buying a road bike to replace the hybrid she’d been riding.  She’d been looking at a Trek, though she preferred a Giant, which was out of stock in her size, of course.

Ranger Canetti returned from where he had been standing next to the ditch camp residence, considering my peculiar situation and announced that he was going to go easy on me.  He would only fine me for riding the bike ($100: $75 fine + $25 processing fee), but was going to ignore the fact that I didn’t have a permit, probably because he figured (rightly) that I’d be very lucky to break even on any pictures I might someday sell from this visit to the national park.  But Blue Earth photographers: be warned.  You’ll want to get that photography permit if you’re going to photograph in one of our nation’s national parks.  Nevertheless, Ranger Canetti added that in a “previous life” he had taught photography himself.  So, you never know.

Once my degree of criminality had been determined, he and the other ranger very helpfully had a look at the map and considered how I might leave the restricted area I’d invaded with my folding bike.  After considering a couple of rather absurd options, involving me walking or carrying the bike several rough miles over routes that were actually designed as trails, they agreed that the public would be best served if I were to exit by the same route I’d entered: on the route that was actually designed as egress for four-wheeled, motorized vehicles.  I promised to get off my bike and walk it, once I reached the pathway through the Holzwarth Historic District (which I did).

I tried to make the most of what had been an otherwise wasted day by photographing the Grand Ditch, as well as the Colorado River, as it flowed through the Kawuneeche Valley far below me.

John Trotter


Trotter’s current project at Blue Earth is No Agua, No Vida: The Thirsty Colorado River Delta.

Along The Colorado River - Rainy Day

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

Damage on Lulu Creek, after a section of the Grand Ditch blew out in 2003, sending a huge mass of debris down the mountainside. © John Trotter

Damage on Lulu Creek, after a section of the Grand Ditch blew out in 2003, sending a huge mass of debris down the mountainside. © John Trotter


The Grand Ditch © John Trotter

The Grand Ditch © John Trotter


Well, to the handful of you out there in internet land who are following this trip, I apologize for not posting anything here over the past couple of days.  It’s not because nothing has been going on.  Quite the contrary.  I’ve just been working too hard and haven’t had enough time to sit down with my laptop, then sling said laptop over my back and pedal the ten miles down to the Blue Water Bakery Cafe here in Grand Lake, Colorado to hook up to their free wireless and eat a sandwich for dinner.

I came to Grand Lake with all my photo and video gear today to gather some images of this place, which is utterly dependent on the tourism that Colorado River water makes possible by filling Grand Lake itself.  But today has been wet and I’ve twice now been soaked to the skin out there, so I’ve decided to catch up on the last couple of days here on the Blue Water’s own PC.  If you’re a Jimmy Buffett kind of person, then the Blue Water is your kind of place.

I have much to report and not much time with which to work.  First off, I’ve been meaning to comment on the word ‘Grand’ that I’ve been tossing about.  This part of the Colorado River was actually called the Grand River until 1921, when Edward T. Taylor, a congressman from the state of Colorado, was able to get the name ‘Grand’ changed to ‘Colorado’ as a way of locating the headwaters of the West’s most notable river in his home state.  I knew that when I came here and persisted, even though I have long felt, as many others have, that the river’s headwaters could more accurately be located at the beginning of the Green River in Wyoming.  I may yet go there.  But enough of that.  I’m here in Colorado and the headwaters I’ve been photographing around definitely flow down into the river I’ve spent a lot of time these past few years exploring.

What else has been going on?  Well, I should tell you that yesterday I got busted by a couple of horse-mounted National Park Service rangers.  Perhaps the word “busted” carries connotations of devious criminal behavior, which I’m not going to cop to.  But to clarify what happened, I have to go back to my previous day, spent with Covey Potter, a graduate student at Colorado State University.  We’d met up at the campground and he’d agreed to take me out along the Colorado River, where he was sinking some monitoring wells (basically 1.5″ pvc pipes with simple electronics inside) as part of a project to restore an area near the defunct mining town of Lulu City, which was decimated when a section of the Grand Ditch (that word ‘Grand’ again… it actually was originally called the Grand River Ditch), high above on a mountainside, blew out in 2003.  Covey says that roughly 9,000 dumptruck loads of debris came rushing down the hill, wiping out about 20,000 trees along the way.  The Grand Ditch is considered the very first diversion of Colorado River waters, as it captures mountain runoff along its 8-mile length before it even reaches the river, sending it across the Continental Divide and down to agriculture on the drier eastern side of the Rocky Mountains.  It’s a perfect example of the importance of the seniority of water rights in the West, as the ditch began delivering that water in 1890, 25 years before the founding of Rocky Mountain National Park itself.

Nevertheless, the National Park Service decided to sue the Water Supply and Service Company, which owns the ditch, for damages and won a $9 million settlement for restoration.  Covey showed me the affected area a couple of days ago and I would have attached photos I took of Lulu Creek tumbling its way over the six-year-old mountain of boulders and assorted debris, but as I said, I’m not on my own laptop.  Maybe later.  Suffice it to say that he and his cohorts have a huge job on their hands and though he described a rough plan of action to me, I have no idea how they’re going to accomplish it.  I’ll be very interested to see how it all goes.

During our day hiking around in the wilderness, Covey encouraged me to go up and see the Grand Ditch for myself and meet the two men whose job it is to make sure that water flows along it without interruption.  Covey, quite the mountain biker himself, seemed duly impressed that I’d ridden my way up here with all my gear from Denver and felt that the best way for me to go up to the ditch was to push my bike up a steep, extremely rocky two-mile road.  Once I reached the ditch, he said, I’d have a very level, regularly graded road to ride, which was the road that the ditch guys themselves cruised along in their pickups during their inspections.  He felt that I’d enjoy meeting the guys and that I’d be able to see a lot of the ditch by bicycle on the way.

We’re just about back to the horse mounted rangers, I promise…

The next morning, Covey went out to check his wells and I set off for the ditch.  He gave me instructions to get to the ditch road, which went through the Holzwarth Historic Site, a defunct dude ranch.  At the entrance to the site I was met by an elderly NPS volunteer, who pointed out the sign, forbidding bicycles along the trail (actually a wide, flat path).  I asked him what harm would be done if I walked the bike along the trail and he just shook his head and told me that it wasn’t allowed and it was not his to question why.  I told him that a Park Service employee had told me I could take it through there (Covey is partially employed by the Park Service in his research) and went ahead.  The encounter left me with a funny feeling, unexpected as it was, though I had no problems besides some rain all the way up to the ditch camp.

When I got there, I saw a sign on the door that the guys were gone, working “down ditch.”  I pulled out the video camera and made a minute of footage of a ragged little American flag flapping in the wind next to the ditch, then turned the camera on the ditch itself, as it flowed down toward the other side of the Divide.  That’s when I saw the two rangers on their horses, riding in my direction.  I even filmed them for 15 or 20 seconds, then stopped to change lenses on my Mamiya to photograph their arrival.  I’d just got the camera ready when they rode up, but could immediately tell from their faces that they were in no mood to be amiable.  They were a man and a woman.

“Is that your bicycle?” asked the man.

When I said it was, he asked how I’d arrived with it here, so I told him.  “I don’t believe you!” he said and climbed off his horse.

I knew I was in trouble then.  He explained to me that the roads I’d been on were considered trails by the park and that since bicycles were not allowed on trails, I was in violation of the law.  I told him that I’d been encouraged by a researcher to come up there in that way and he angrily told me, “He has no authority to tell you that!”

And alas, my time here at the cafe is up and I have to go without finishing the story.  But isn’t that how Dickens himself used to do it when his novels were being serialized in the newspapers?  Well, I’m no Dickens, but I promise to give you the conclusion to the story when I next have an opportunity to write, which might be a couple of days from now.  Tomorrow morning I have to ride over Trail Ridge Road (the second highest paved road in the lower 48 states) to the other side of the park and then down to Denver.  I’ve got to get back to New York, as I’ve only been there four days since the end of May.

Thanks for reading and I hope I haven’t rambled too much for you.

John Trotter

Along The Colorado River - Timber Creek Campground

Saturday, July 25th, 2009

Lake Granby © John Trotter

Lake Granby © John Trotter


Timber Creek Campground-Rocky Mountain National Park © John Trotter

Timber Creek Campground-Rocky Mountain National Park
© John Trotter


The screen on the laptop computer resting on my knees, where I am sitting up in my sleeping; bag tells me that it is now 5:04 am.  But I’m sure that fact is absolutely immaterial to the solitary house wren chirping purposefully away nearby in the slowly gathering light that is beginning to permeate the walls of this tent.  I’ve been awake longer than the bird: long enough to have experienced the pre-dawn of this new day when the sound of it still meant only the gentlest breeze whispering through the branches of the beetle-eaten lodge pole pine forest across the road.

But since I’ve powered up this Mac fourteen minutes ago, already a second vehicle has rattled by on Trail Ridge Road, scraped down to gravel for re-paving and soon to be what it was when I rode in on it yesterday afternoon: a morass of idling vacation vehicles and heavy trucks, laden with asphalt from some aggregate plant outside the National Park.  Little did I know when those trucks began to pass my left shoulder after I pedaled onto Trail Ridge off U.S. Highway 40 that my evening’s destination would be directly adjacent to the current epicenter of road re-surfacing activity in Rocky Mountain National Park.

I should pause to note the presence of a herd of elk at the edge my campsite, whose browsing I interrupted when I paused from my typing moments ago to step into the brisk mountain air.  All nine of them raised their heads in my direction, chewing on whatever tender grass they’d just found, then calmly moved a little farther away in unison.

The day’s third vehicle has now passed.

After I’d arrived, found this campsite and set up my tent, I remarked to a woman in a site nearby about the dearth of trees here, as almost all of them had been felled and bulldozed into large, utterly dead, umber piles throughout the campground.  She said she thought that the park service had cut them all down as a public safety measure last year, after the trees, all lodge pole pines, had succumbed to the bark beetle infestation.  Or was it the year before?  Anyway, they had once defined why anyone would feel the urge to spend a night in this meadow and their absence now made this place look a bit ridiculous and random and us campers a bit like refugees, with no better place to lay our heads.

And as serendipity would have it, Kristin (Kristen?), the woman I spoke to, is a PhD student from Colorado State University, who is trying to determine how to save the willows nearby, which are losing the battle with resident moose population, as well as from a fungus, which until a couple of months ago, she said, has only been known to attack aspens.

Willows, of course, are found primarily in riparian areas and the riparian area adjacent to this very campground is the Colorado River’s.  And so, just like that, as has happened many times before since beginning work on this project, I’ve stumbled upon another pathway into a part of the river I’ve yet to explore.  To tell the story of something so large, which makes its course across so much varied territory, I’ve found that it is necessary to tell many smaller stories along the way.

I’m attaching a picture of Lake Granby about fifteen miles below here, which I passed en route: Colorado River water behind a dam.  And just so you’ll see evidence of the pine bark beetle devastation I’ve been describing for the past two days: a picture of my campsite here in Rocky Mountain National Park.

John Trotter


Trotter’s current project at Blue Earth is No Agua, No Vida: The Thirsty Colorado River Delta.

Along The Colorado River - Berthoud Pass

Friday, July 24th, 2009

© John Trotter

© John Trotter


I’d hoped to get on the road early Tuesday, knowing that I’d have a long, grinding climb over Berthoud Pass.  Last night, I even had designs on making it to Granby.  But as tired as I was, I slept terribly in my tent at the Indian Spring campground and by morning I felt as though I’d been awake more than I’d been asleep.  Any cyclist riding the Tour de France could count on being shelled by the competition after such a night.

Nevertheless, I rolled out of my sleeping bag, got on my bike and rode down Main Street in Idaho Falls for some coffee and a little breakfast.  But it was after 9am before I hit the road and I lamented the loss my best laid plans from the night before.  And I hadn’t been riding for an hour before I ran across a Starbucks, with wireless internet access, where I stopped to check my email and update this blog.

Before noon, I left the Interstate 70 access roads I’d been following and turned onto U.S. Highway 40 and the approach to Berthoud Pass in earnest.  As I settled into the climb, I saw a gash of brown trees scarring a mountain to my left and realized that I was riding into the elevation where the Mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae) were laying waste to the alpine evergreen forest across the Western United States.  The higher I rode, the more the mountainsides reminded me of piles of discarded Christmas trees in February.

This vast scourge across an entire region is yet another symptom of global warming.  The larvae deposited in the bark of pine trees by adult beetles have not been frozen to death during winters that are trending warmer in the higher altitudes.  As the pine forests are already stressed by the protracted drought that has gripped the West for a decade, the perfect storm has arrived.  Millions of acres of pines are dying or dead and we may very soon not recognize a part of our country that has long fired our collective imagination and shaped our identity.

But mostly today, I’ve been focused on moving myself closer to the Colorado River headwaters and frankly, the suitcase trailer I’m towing up these mountains behind my folding Bike Friday is overloaded with camping and photography gear.  Turning the pedals, even in my very lowest gear, is hard labor.  For the curious, I’m hauling: Two Mamiya 7 cameras, with three lenses; two flashes (one of which is a backup); a Sekonic meter; about 50 rolls of Tri-X 220 film; an old Leitz Tiltall monopod; a Canon Vixia HV30 video camera, with a Sennheiser mic and four tapes; an Edirol R9 digital audio recorder and of course, the 15” MacBook Pro on which I write these words.  The laptop alone must weigh over six pounds.

I’m sitting tonight in a lightweight one person tent on a featherweight ¾ length sleeping pad, with only a wisp of a sleeping bag to keep out the chill of the mountain night (I’m generally a warm sleeper, but I’m not as hardy as a pine bark beetle).  I guess I’ll know in the morning if leaving the heavier sleeping bag at home was worth it.

At the top of Berthoud Pass is a sign marking the Continental Divide.  East of there, all the rivers flow to the mighty Mississippi.  To the west, everything flows into the Colorado.

John Trotter

Along The Colorado River - Idaho Springs, Colorado

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

© John Trotter

© John Trotter


I had a friend back in Sacramento who told me that she’d decided to choose gravity as her religion because gravity was something everybody could believe in.

Here in Idaho Springs, Colorado, an old mining town along tumbling Clear Creek and rumbling Interstate 70, my appreciation of gravity has been refreshed by pedaling up here yesterday from Denver, pulling my gear behind me in my trailer.  Moving a one-ton automobile up the same stretch with the air conditioning and the radio blasting, courtesy of some ancient fossilized forest, we tend to disconnect from what gravity really means in our lives.

The beginning of the industrial revolution was powered by gravity and evidence can still be seen in old New England mill towns, sited along rivers where falling water turned the early wheels of industry.  Here in Idaho Springs, the now-dormant Argo Gold Mine turned its processing mill, producing electricity with Clear Creek, which falls a long way down the Rockies before it flows through here.  But I’m still on the Western Slope of the Rocky Mountains and the water in Clear Creek will eventually end up in the Mississippi.  I have more climbing ahead of me today before I’m in the Colorado River watershed.

And I’d better get to it.

John Trotter


Trotter’s current project at Blue Earth is No Agua, No Vida: The Thirsty Colorado River Delta.

Along The Colorado River - California Zephyr

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

Aboard the Amtrak California Zephyr eastbound out of Sacramento the Sierra Nevada Mountains have suddenly disappeared from view, as we have now entered one of them. One minute… two minutes… a pair of middle-aged women inch cautiously past my seat in the subterranean darkness. “Are we still in a tunnel or is this a blackout?” asks one to the other, who responds with nicotine-stained laughter.

After almost five minutes, we emerge from beneath the mountain next to a long, alpine lake. I learn that it is, in fact, Donner Lake and realize that the mountain we’ve just passed through is the same one that trapped the now famous party of emigrants for the entire long, hungry winter of 1844. And as it has for many years, that geographic designation reminds me of my old friend Martin, a brilliant sportswriter from my first newspaper job, who liked to leave the unlucky group’s name with restaurant hostesses whenever he was told that there would be a wait for a table, just so that later, he could hear them call out, “Donner… the Donner party… your table is ready.”

Seeing Donner Lake reminds me that in California, as it is in much of the intermountain West, the vast majority of the water being used is coming out of the mountains as stored snow melt. As our planet continues to warm up, snow pack in those mountains should inevitably decrease and the systems constructed for water delivery, like the ones along the Colorado River, where I’m going, will not be able to function as they were designed to.

The next time I write will likely be from the Rocky Mountains themselves. Time now to enjoy a nice, microwaved Amtrak veggie burger.

John Trotter

Along The Colorado River - John Trotter On The Road

Monday, July 20th, 2009

The Colorado River Aqueduct passes through the desert of Southern California east of Joshua Tree National Park. © John Trotter

The Colorado River Aqueduct passes through the desert of Southern California east of Joshua Tree National Park. © John Trotter


For anyone out there interested in the working process of a Blue Earth photographer, I’ve decided to blog as often as possible about my current trip for my ongoing Colorado River project.  From wherever I can find internet access out in the field, I’ll send updates to my esteemed colleague Bart J. Cannon, at Mission Control in the great Pacific Northwest, and he’ll post them here for you (since you’re are in fact reading this) to see.  We each work in our own ways and we each describe those ways uniquely, as well.  I guess I don’t exactly want to demystify the undertaking for you because it would be a shame to eliminate all of the inherent magic that photography has always offered us, but I’ll try my best to make it interesting.

What are the origins of this trip?

When I decided to attend the July 11 opening of a two-person exhibition I was a part of at the Viewpoint Photographic Art Center in Sacramento, California, it was a natural opportunity to double up and work on my Colorado River project, since I was already going to be in the West.  Originally, I’d intended to re-visit San Diego and other cities nearby that are heavily dependent on the river for their survival.  But a proposal from a French magazine to photograph in Monument Valley that materialized in mid-June made me decide to photograph my way up the river from Lake Powell instead.  And though sadly, the job fell through in the end, I’d made too many plans in that direction and have resolved to follow through with them.

So, I’m taking the Amtrak California Zephyr to Denver, where I’ve got a couple of cousins and thus a free place to stay.  From there I’m going to re-visit the Colorado River headwaters in Rocky Mountain National Park, where I’d spent a few hours kicking around with my father late last year in the snow.

Did I mention that I’m going to be working from my bicycle?  It’s true.  It won’t be the first time.  Last fall I spent a week each in San Diego and Las Vegas, car-free, carrying my Mamiya 7, a couple of lenses and a bunch of film in my Lowe Pro sling bag all day long.  Why?  I guess I prefer to ask, why not?  I’ve been a cyclist most of my life, even racing on a French amateur team in my late teens and riding across the United States alone in my mid-30’s.  As the evidence of carbon-induced global warming and petroleum production collapse only continue to become more compelling I’ve begun to feel that it’s somewhat disingenuous to flit around the world with very carbon intensive propulsion to photograph the results of flitting around the world with very carbon intensive propulsion.

So, I take the train or the bus (preferably public transportation) or my bike, whenever possible instead of an airplane or a car.  I ride a Bike Friday a very ingenious folder, built in Eugene, Oregon, which fits into a Samsonite suitcase, for which I’ve never paid an oversize charge when I have had to fly with it.  Once I get where I’m going, I unfold it from the case, then pop a couple of small wheels onto an axle that attaches very quickly to the bottom of the suitcase to turn it into a trailer.  Shocked, unsuspecting bystanders have watched me do this as though I were some movie villain screwing a few disparate pipes together into a sniper rifle.  And then, to their continued surprise, I attach the suitcase/trailer to the bike, throw my other bag inside it and ride away from the airport/train station.  People: believe me - get rid of the gym membership because this is the future.  I’ve more than paid for the bike with the money I haven’t spent on rental cars.

And the thing is, I can see a lot better from a bike than I can from a car.

You might enjoy a photo Kevin German took of me assembling the bike in Charlottesville, Virginia.  The reason it took a half hour to put everything together while he was watching was because I’d left a R-pin for attaching a trailer wheel at my previous destination and took a few minutes to improvise my key ring as a temporary replacement.

Anyway, if you’ve read this far, check back.  I’ll let you know how the trip unfolds and though I’ve been shooting this project in film since its beginning, I’ll try to upload some snapshots from my compact digital Ricoh, as well.

All the best to you,

John Trotter


Trotter’s current project at Blue Earth is No Agua, No Vida: The Thirsty Colorado River Delta.

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