Interview: Alexandra Garcia, International League of Conservation Photographers

January 27, 2014

Photo credit: Wendy Shattil

Late last year, we had the pleasure of picking the creative minds of three world-class conservation photographers and videographers: Gary Braasch, Amy Gulick and Amy Marquis (the interviews with Ms. Gulick and Ms. Marquis are forthcoming). Gary Braasch and Amy Gulick are senior fellow photographers of the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP); Amy Marquis is a multimedia, digital communications, and film affiliate of the organization. iLCP was established in 2005 in an effort to further environmental and cultural conservation through ethical photography. We sat down with Alexandra Garcia, Executive Director of the iLCP, to learn more about the organization’s work.

Tell us about the work of iLCP.

We have two main purposes here at iLCP. The first is to act as a community and fellowship for our international group of 117 Fellow Photographers, so that they can share information, mentor, collaborate, brainstorm, and generally support each other in their work. The second piece is more external and encompasses our core conservation work, where we collaborate with non-profit organizations working on campaigns to get concrete conservation actions put in place, whether that be the establishment of protections for land or marine habitats, getting particular species listed as endangered, or preserving the rights and cultures of indigenous peoples. These organizations will come to us with their plan for a focused, targeted campaign; what they lack, however, are the visual images to share the stories of what they are doing. We then coordinate a photographic expedition using our Fellow Photographers who will go out and document the people, animals and area surrounding the issue. We then make the images easily available to our Conservation Partners for use in their campaigns. That begins the story. After that we do other things to promote conservation from licensing images, to running a Speakers Bureau (where our photographers go out and speak about their projects), to generally supporting conservation efforts through social media, the press and online. In this way, iLCP is a great resource for groups that have compelling stories to share but lack the images to do so effectively.

Why has photography become key to communicating the importance of environmental conservation?

A great image will capture a story. If you asked our photographers, many would tell you that first and foremost they are storytellers. The photographs that they take do more than document the facts; they are a basis for a whole narrative. One of the reasons why are our photographers are so successful is because they have a deep respect for science; many in fact come from a scientific background. As so much of conservation work is science-based, it becomes increasingly important to have someone who can make the connection for the audience. Photographs have the power to give viewers that “ah ha” moment, capturing the science visually so that people can begin to understand and appreciate the core of the conservation issue in question.

Image credit: Cristina Goettsch Mittermeier

How does iLCP work with conservation photographers?

When a partner or funder approaches us with an issue, we send out a notice of the expedition to our Fellow Photographers.  We then get applications back from those who are interested in working on the expedition and a committee elects the expedition participants from this pool. The selected photographers bring their expertise and years of experience to the given project. Aside from the expeditions, our Fellows may also provide images for our image bank and or be included in our Speakers Bureau. Through these efforts, the photographers are able to use the strength and reputation of iLCP as a collective to raise the bar on issues that we as a community feel are important.

I’ve noted that iLCP is a Fellowship, and there is quite a high bar to get accepted. When we evaluate photographers for admittance, we consider two thing: the quality of their photography, which must be world class and already recognized as such, and their past work in conservation, which must be extensive. Both of these qualifications are equally important and ensure that our Fellows can and will make a strong impact in conservation efforts around the world.

Tell us about a specific campaign iLCP has worked on and what made it successful.

One expedition that comes to mind is our work in the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia. This project began in 2010 when we partnered with Pacific Wild, Sierra Club BC and the Gitga’at First Nation. The goal of the project was to keep the Northern Gateway Pipeline from going through the rainforest. We had nine photographers out there documenting the region, from the pristine landscape to the spectacular wildlife to the people themselves. For our conservation partners, the campaign itself is by no means finished; they continue the fight against Enbridge to protect the lands of the Great Bear.  From our vantage however, we already deem it a success because these partners have made active, long-term use of the images we provided. We can supply the most awe-inspiring photographs, but without strong partners on the ground who can use them effectively, the images will have little impact. In this case, the organizations have made extensive use of the material we supplied, displaying it in many different mediums, from the press to videos to exhibits in the local communities through British Columbia. A great documentary, Spoil, also came out of the expedition, receiving a number of awards and recognition for its use of photography and connecting the issue to human interest.

–Serena Bernthal-Jones, 2013 Winter Intern