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“Heart explosions of joy”: 5 eco photographers at work

“Heart explosions of joy”: 5 eco photographers at work

Exploring photography’s power to connect us with nature

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New hemp, street art tote bags call for a better world

New hemp, street art tote bags call for a better world

Leading ethical brand - THTC - joins anti-plastic revolution with the launch of its winter tote bag

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Want to get better? Look at some trees...

Want to get better? Look at some trees...

Exposure to nature can kick-start dramatic health improvements

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Nature

“Heart explosions of joy”: 5 eco photographers at work

Exploring photography’s power to connect us with nature

Mary, Paul and Heather. Scotland, 1970. Credit Linda McCartney

Linda McCartney

At the Linda McCartney Retrospective at the Kelvingrove, there’s a small enclave dedicated to her love for animals. Across three white walls, we see photos of the pets who were major characters in the McCartney’s lives, including leaping horses – bodies held in arresting, energetic shapes. Or Lucky Spot in Daisy Field: the horse lost in thought in a sea of daisies. These are juxtaposed with black and white shots McCartney took at fish and meat markets – gaping mouths, lamb’s heart, sugenoic lumps.

In fact, the spirit of animals pervades the exhibition as a whole. There is a magic to Linda’s weaving of family scenes with the lives of animals, under a wide Scottish or Sussex sky. There’s a winning authenticity to pictures of the McCartney children growing up with a free range of expression; Martha the sheepdog at their muddy feet, under two beacons of creativity. Linda’s work is a prescient form of what could be called ‘eco photography’: capturing the connections between animals, environments and people.

McCartney’s animal rights activism and environmental campaigning is well-known and succeeds her in various ways. Linda McCartney Foods is now fuelling a new generation of activists on vegetarian sausages, whilst daughter Stella lights the way in sustainable fashion. Evident in Linda’s photography is the beauty of animals, a sharing of space with animals and a non-violence towards them. How is this continued in artists’ work today?

Is eco photography a way to reposition and connect photography fields, mountain ranges, deep dives, visual artists and bird snappers? A prompt to reconsider humans’ central role in the natural world? Have a wander through this talented collection, and let us know what you think.

The Linda McCartney Retrospective is on at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow, until 12 Jan 2020.

From Martha my dear to Mongolian wild horses...

Krystle Wright

An adventure photographer on a quest to capture moments from extreme expeditions around the globe, Krystle works on a scale sure to expand anyone’s world view. Even in precarious positions, she stays alert for the subtle actions that illuminate connections between the human and non-human world.

She describes the joy of photographing animals in faraway places:

The opportunity to have experienced wild places has allowed me to be immersed in environments where there are no barriers between myself and the wildlife. The lesson has been reinforced where every time it is in the power of the wildlife that they choose whether they wish to interact with me or not. And I can guarantee you that when I have experienced that spontaneous connection, there is nothing quite like it! I describe it as a heart explosion of joy!

But with the privilege of encountering wild animals in their habitats comes serious responsibility. Krystle cautions, “What I worry about, particularly with social media, is that too many people have a great expectation to force these connections and disrespect our wildlife all in the name of narcissistic behaviour.” National Geographic’s recent investigation into the darkside of wildlife tourism is eye-opening in this regard, showing the appalling lengths some people will go to get a cute animal selfie.

Ski mountaineers in the Wrangell - St Elias Mountains in Alaska. Credit Krystle Wright

Wright writes eloquently in Waymaking: an anthology of women’s adventure writing, poetry and art, of her interest in showcasing how the athletes interact with the environment, rather than becoming standing statues in grand landscapes.

A small herd of baby goat and sheep approaching Wright’s friend’s tent in The Steppe, Mongolia. Credit Krystle Wright

Capturing this spontaneous moment has always been one of my favourite memories.

Check out Krystle’s website for more awesome adventures and characters along the way.

Sean Gallagher

Winner of Environmental Photographer of the Year 2019’s ‘changing environments’ prize for his photo showing rising sea levels in Tuvalu, Gallagher is an experienced photojournalist working across the Asia-Pacific region. Documenting environmental and social crises leads him to spend an extended period of time in one place, ‘photographing the many different facets of life affected by the environmental issue facing it.’ Which, ‘in most instances [is] all parts of the community and local ecosystem.’

‘Saving Mongolia’s Wild Horses’ is a success story that keeps the issue in sight. ‘Once on the brink of extinction, the Przewalski’s horse is now rebounding thanks to the efforts of local conservationists and scientists who are successfully reintroducing the species into the wild.’ Those scientists, rangers and local people are also featured in the photo series.

A herd of beautiful Przewalski’s horses, cavorting in the Hustai National Park, central Mongolia. Credit Sean Gallagher

Our age of sixth mass extinction gives global significance to the framing of the horses and their precarious existence. Sean continues,

I make images to explore the world and answer my own curiosity.

He hopes these images ‘resonate with others and encourage them to think on the issues affecting the people and the ecosystems’ he explores.

Follow Sean on instagram for photos that act like windows on to important environmental stories - which you can find in full on his website.

Diana Rebman

Diana Rebman is an award-winning wildlife photographer. Her Cool Drink photo was highly commended by Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year, and available to view in that breathtaking exhibition. It captures a long-tailed tit nibbling the tip of an icicle in Hokkaido, Japan; one in a ‘well-choreographed’ dance of birds.

Long-tailed tit in Hokkaido, where winters are freezing and birds must nibble on snow and ice for water. Credit Diana Rebman

In his exquisite poem ‘Song’, Seamus Heaney writes of ‘that moment when the bird sings very close / To the music of what happens.’ Irish critic Seán Lysaght finds a definition of “eco-poetry” in that line: ‘if eco-poetry is the study of relationships between organisms in the environment, then poetry operates in that context simply by “meaning” the world around us.’ This seems to capture the up-closeness of wildlife photography too, and Rebman’s is a classic of its field in shooting intimate, detailed portraits of flora and fauna.

The focus on precision can make wildlife photos look like stills from a nature documentary. At their best they feel like an education: a visual fast-track to scientific knowledge. In isolating frames, they could also be accused of presenting animals removed from the present ecological crisis. Pulling the heartstrings but leaving us behind the lens, away from reality.

Anna’s Hummingbird feeding. Credit Diana Rebman

But Diana’s is an art of advocacy, as she focuses on rare and endangered species.

By encouraging an emotional connection between the viewer and the animal, I hope to awaken a concern for the survival of these endangered species as well as an understanding that all animals are sentient beings.

See more marvellous shots on Diana Rebman’s website and instagram.

Dr Nibedita Mukherjee

A fisherman amongst the mangroves in Kerala, India. Credit Dr Nibedita Mukherjee

Dr Nibedita Mukherjee is Co-chair of the Global Environmental Outlook (GEO) for Youth produced on the UN’s Environment Programme, and a prominent conservation researcher. Mangrove ecosystems are a speciality, and the above photo was taken en route to a research site in Kerala, India. Man in the Mangrove captures a serene moment of a traditional fishermen immersed in river and forest. It was a deserved winner of the British Ecological Society photography competition, 2018’s best take on how people are part of the global ecosystem, not separate from it. For an in-depth look at how a healthy planet equals healthy people, check out Dr Mukherjee’s section on biodiversity policy in the GEO 6 report.

Jen & Sim Benson

Authors Jen and Sim Benson run, climb, mountain-bike and swim all over Britain and further afield, using photography to document their adventures as they go. Raising two ‘free-range children’ is an evolving adventure for the whole family, as the kids have been taken up mountains and over moorland since they were tiny babies.

Jen and Sim’s youngest child surveys Eskdale, in the Lake District. Credit Jen Benson

Jen loves seeing the children simply being themselves in wild places.

Sometimes, looking at a picture of a small child in a big space it can feel uncomfortable – they look so alone, so vulnerable. And yet they are safer than almost anywhere else.

‘Sometimes they don't seem to even see the vastness. When we take them to somewhere beautiful like the mountains they'll play happily in one place, focussing on a puddle or a stick or a pile of stones. They're much less daunted, and also much less challenged by big landscapes than we are as adults. They're happy to continue being themselves within the place rather than somehow trying to conquer it.’

Keep up with Jen and Sim’s adventures on their website adventureplaces.co.uk, where you can also view and buy their books.

This is the place...the time is now

Anthrozoology - looking at the interactions between humans and other animals - has obvious emotional appeal. Animals can’t pose, so spontaneity and patience are mixed into the magic, reminding us to consider the temporal nature of photos as well as adventure places.

Art critic John Berger wrote of the intricacy of crossing paths and crossing energies (those of birds, insects, mammals, spores, seeds, lichens, worms, trees etc) in Jitka Hanzolvá’s forest photos, and it’s a wonderful way into the time frames of eco photography. Recalling us to the longer, magisterial time of the mangroves (and all they support) in Mukherjee’s photo, and the time of children in the Bensons’ family snap. Can we look at these pictures in the same way as the McCartney’s family life, when questions of intergenerational justice and earthly inheritance are to the fore?

Can we retain our childish joy and protect rather than conquer?

Sponsored

New hemp, street art tote bags call for a better world

Leading ethical brand - THTC - joins anti-plastic revolution with the launch of its winter tote bag

Photo credit - Radski Studio

THTC, the country’s longest established hemp streetwear brand has produced the UK’s first hemp tote bag in celebration of its 20th anniversary this month. Launched in 1999 by Gavin Lawson, the ethical and sustainable T-shirt brand is loved by Hip Hop and Drum ‘n Bass act The Foreign Beggars as well as Ed Sheeran, Ed Skrein, Benjamin Zephaniah, Sinitta, Woody Harrelson and activist Olivia Firth. Its T-shirts and accessories carry artwork with a message.

Gav Lawson (THTC) and models - Sarah Lamptey (founder of the charity ShowerBox) and Wilf Scolding (actor - Game of Thrones). Photo credit - Radski Studio

This month, THTC calls on eco-conscious street art lovers to join its community in the fight against single use plastic with the purchase of a limited edition tote bag made of a fine blend of 45% Hemp, 40% Organic Cotton, and 15% Recycled Poly Muslin. THTC works with 5 or 6 charities by rising money and awareness of their causes through commissions on sales of various designs in the range.The Refugee Community Kitchen (RCK) is one of their favourite such collaborations. THTC has pledged 30% of their range to RCK for Black Friday (29th November) and the 3 days after as an antithesis to the unnecessary overconsumption that Black Friday is meant to encourage.

“We’ve been championing the anti-plastic revolution for two decades now with our open-edition graffiti print T-shirts made of hemp. We are big believers in wearing your politics to help reinforce positive change in the world. The launch of our new tote bag, with its large canvas, gives environmentally conscious people another platform similar to our well loved Tees, to broadcast the causes they believe in,” commented Gavin Lawson, Founder and CEO of THTC.

Photo credit - Radski Studio

The bags boast four original, limited edition street art prints by the UK’s best loved living street artists Mau Mau, The Tribes and Fybe:One, making them the perfect accessory to carry your winter holiday essentials while broadcasting our shared cause to the world.

Find out more here - shop.thtc.co.uk

Photo credit - Radski Studio

Nature

Want to get better? Look at some trees...

Exposure to nature can kick-start dramatic health improvements

By Rosalind Stone

A beautiful view could change your perspective

In the woods we return to reason and faith. There, I feel that nothing can befall me in life — no disgrace, no calamity (leaving me my eyes), which nature cannot repair.

In his essay Nature (1836), Ralph Waldo Emerson celebrates the healing potential of the natural world; its power to refresh and regenerate. This phenomenon continues to be recognised; the vital importance of connecting with nature for our vitality is being explored across many different fields, from poetry and art to medicine, psychotherapy and neuroscience.

While actual, boots-on interaction with nature — (muddy hallway or it didn’t happen!) — is understood to be the most beneficial way to greet it, recent research shows that even looking at greenery from afar has multifarious effects on our cognitive processing that boost our physical and mental wellbeing.

We are healthiest when our awareness of the natural world is built into the way we live our lives — as well as the design of the buildings we live in. Exploring how we can open the doors to nature as widely as possible gives us the best chance of accessing its healing and protective powers.

Connecting with nature helps our bodies and minds reboot

Clinical explorations reveal nature’s many desirable healing properties. These kinds of findings are further illustrated by many different people who have found that exposure to nature can kick-start dramatic health improvements.

The neurologist Oliver Sacks describes “taking [his] patients to gardens whenever possible, [as] in many cases, the healing powers of nature are more powerful than any medication.” He describes a female patient affected by Parkinson’s rediscovering freedom of movement in the garden. Another patient, an urban man severely affected by Tourette’s, finds himself symptom-free on a hike. Life-changing experiences like these affirm nature’s power, but they also beg the question: What invisible processes underlie these dynamic rekindlings of physical and mental health?

“Leaving me my eyes”: the sight of nature can brighten us up

Emerson exhaluts in the importance of visual engagement with the natural world, to the extent of portraying his whole self as a “transparent eye-ball.” In this conceptualisation, his existence hinges on processing the natural world; everything else falls away. As his personal sense of self and associated problems vaporise, he becomes “uplifted into infinite spaces.” In other words, he undergoes a kind of transcendental spring-cleaning process known as “ego-dissolution.”

Returning to the wild can remind us of our place in it. The small potatoes of our personal lives revert to feeling comparatively trivial to the limitless potential of the ground we grow from, and will one day return to.

Although Emerson is tripping on the beauty of his sylvan surroundings nearly 200 years ago, he identifies how intrinsic his sight is to his experience of their psychologically purifying effects, cannily presaging the findings of contemporary clinical investigations. Studies are revealing that, where actual immersion in nature is not an option, even just the sight of plant life can catalyse powerful health improvements.

Investigations focussing on people affected by trauma show that views of natural surroundings can reduce blood pressure, diffuse muscle tension and diminish levels of cortisol (a stress-related hormone) found in saliva. Reducing our stress levels in these tangibly measurable ways is understood to be key to nature’s transformational potential.

A desk with a view: wellbeing in the workplace

Nature’s contribution to wellbeing in the workplace is also being explored; (the connection between hours spent in artificially lit dungeons and outcomes like breakdowns and burnouts has been definitively established). Research comparing office views — from unpaved paradises to the parking lots all too regularly put up over them — reveals that, however fleeting, sightings of plant-life can transform performance.

A 2015 study finds that even tiny doses of nature — as short as 40-second intervals; dubbed “micro-breaks” — can help a person sustain attention for significantly longer periods than they’d find possible without a peripheral, plant-based pick-me-up. The effects of these glimpses are certainly not sub-perceptual; views with a nature-based element reduce stress and rumination and increase our capacity to pay attention and sense of contentment. (Crack open the blinds, and watch the existentialist memes disappear from screens all round!)

“Soft fascination”: nature restores our attention

When we look at nature, we experience a mindstate called “soft fascination,” according to Attention Restoration Theory (ART), developed by psychologists Stephen and Rachel Kaplan from the University of Michigan.

Entering a state of “soft fascination” allows our minds to reboot. Noticing how the leaves blow in the wind or pink clouds shape shift across the darkening sky absorbs our attention, but in a significantly less intensive way than a diverting, highly stimulating activity (Game of Thrones? Actual jousting?). The more comfortably you become engrossed in the workings of the natural world, the better you set your subconscious up to engage in some hardcore passive reflection; a recipe for leaving the scene feeling restored.

Gazing solutions: bringing the great outdoors in

If you lived in an all-glass micro-home like the Photon-Space by Cantifix, à la Henry David Thoreay’s Walden, you could look up and experience deep woodland immersion at any given moment. While tiny homes, and particularly glass ones, can increase our connection to nature, the rise of the “tiny house movement” — known to include properties as little as 7.4 m2 — is primarily a revolt against expansive consumerism.

When we parr the way we live down to the bare essentials, it reduces our overall environmental impact. Tiny homes also allow a given area to be shared harmoniously between more people. In their 2019 report “Size Doesn’t Matter,” the Adam Smith Institute recommend the UK government green light them, as part of a response to the current housing crisis.

The Royal Society of British Architects (RIBA) declared a climate emergency in June 2019, committing to sustainability and reducing the environmental impact of planned buildings. These intentions coalesce naturally with a desire to increase the plant-life surrounding our buildings, their hospitality to it and ability to showcase it.

A vision for a future green city

What can we do from the concrete jungle?

It’s not feasible for most of us to up sticks and build a literal “transparent eye-ball” to live in, (though Emerson would no doubt approve!), but it’s nevertheless important to seek out environments to live and work in which allow you to maintain contact with nature. This is particularly the case if you can’t go down to the woods today, (or most days). Building encounters with the natural world into your day-to-day is crucial, if you want to give yourself the best chance of shaking off the mind-forg’d manacles of the urban rat race.

For everybody living in concrete jungles, the presence or absence of a well-placed workplace window can make the crucial difference between nature filtering through into your hard day’s night, or not at all. Bringing flora to the party where you don’t find it can also help you get your fix. If your office isn’t due for renovation any time soon and there’s no green in sight, try a plant-per-person policy — (wouldn’t it be great to see ivy growing up the shafts of the Shard in 2020?!)

By speaking up for nature in any building design plans you have input into, you can reduce the extent to which the architecture of our lives deprives us of the potential greenery outside. Home designs that dissolve boundaries between indoors and outdoors to facilitate our sense of nature connection benefit everybody; kids in particular. A childhood immersed in nature renders a person more likely to gravitate towards it and its attendant health benefits in adulthood. Most importantly of all, it instills a deep-running commitment to protecting the environment, sowing the seeds of change for a healthier planet.

"Transparent eyeball" as illustrated by Christopher Pearse Cranch, ca. 1836-1838